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How Gum Disease Affects Your Health

You might think brushing gently twice a day, flossing daily, and seeing your dentist regularly make sense for good oral health.

But the health of your mouth could affect the health of your whole body. More and more evidence shows a strong association between gum disease and heart disease, stroke, diabetes, poor pregnancy outcomes, and other conditions. Some early research has even found a higher risk for certain cancers.

What could the connection be? In some cases, such as heart disease, one theory blames bacteria in the mouth. When these bacteria enter the blood stream, the theory goes, they settle on existing coronary artery plaques and help form clots in the arteries that feed your heart.

Another possibility: The chemical signals given off from the chronic inflammation caused by gum disease bacteria could directly increase atherosclerotic plaque buildup. This could also play a part in such inflammatory conditions as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic kidney disease, and some forms of cancer.

People with gum disease are almost twice as likely to have coronary artery disease as people without gum disease. The two diseases share many of the same risk factors. These include smoking, excess weight, and uncontrolled blood sugar levels among people with diabetes. In fact, the correlation is so strong that the Journal of Periodontology, which covers gum disease, and the American Journal of Cardiology, focused on heart disease, teamed up to release a consensus statement addressing the issue in 2009.

The connection between diabetes and gum disease may be even stronger. Diabetes is a risk factor for worsening gum disease, and gum disease is a risk factor for worsening blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. A recent study showed that people with diabetes who have gum disease are six times more likely to have their blood sugar control worsen over time than those with diabetes but not gum disease. People with diabetes and gum disease are also at greater risk for kidney disease compared to people with diabetes who don't have gum disease.

"Diabetes Mellitus and Inflammatory Periodontal Diseases." B.L. Mealey and L.F. Rose. Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes & Obesity. 2008, vol. 15, pp. 135-141. http://www.medicinaoral.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/dm-e-dp.pdf. Accessed 2013.

"Gum Disease and Women." American Academy of Periodontology. http://www.perio.org/consumer/women.htm. Accessed 2013.

"Periodontal Disease, Tooth Loss, and Cancer Risk in Male Health Professionals: A Prospective Cohort Study." D.S. Michaud et al. The Lancet Oncology. June 2008, vol. 9, no. 6, pp. 550-558. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2601530/. Accessed 2013.

"Inflammation: Connecting the Mouth and Body?" American Academy of Periodontology. http://frankelperio.com/Portals/0/Inflammation-ConnectingTheMouthAndBody.pdf. Accessed 2013.

"Gum DiseaseĀ and Heart Disease." American Academy of Periodontology. http://www.perio.org/consumer/heart_disease. Accessed 2013.

"Gum Disease Risk Factors." American Academy of Periodontology. http://www.perio.org/consumer/risk-factors. Accessed 2013.

"Diabetes Mellitus and Periodontal Diseases." B.L. Mealey and T.W. Oates. Journal of Periodontology. 2006, vol. 77, pp. 1289-1303. http://www.dtstudyclub.com.br/resources/content/editor/media/lr-diabetes%202006.pdf. Accessed 2013.

"The American Journal of Cardiology and Journal of Periodontology Editors' Consensus: Periodontitis and Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease." V.E. Friedewald et al. Journal of Periodontology. July 2009, vol. 80, no. 7, pp.1021-1032. http://www.eauclaireperiodontics.com/pdfs/cardio_paper.17123103.pdf. Accessed 2013.

Author: Amy Bernstein
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