Medical Conditions Linked to Gum Disease

As a periodontal specialist in the woodlands, Dr. Saunders understands the delicate relationship between your dental wellness and overall health. The oral-systemic health connection between your mouth and rest of the body is stronger than what we realized in decades past. As more time goes by, a stronger correlation between oral conditions like gum disease and underlying medical issues, becomes more clear. In turn, that data shows us how big of an impact our dental care and oral hygiene can have on secondary medical conditions – many of which can be life threatening.

Today, we know that the more chronic gum disease becomes, the greater likelihood someone has to suffer from another underlying health problem. In turn, that condition is likely to be more severe if their oral disease goes untreated. In some cases, they may not even be able to control the health condition through traditional methods until their oral infection is addressed.

While it’s fairly simple to explain that oral bacteria can spread through bleeding gums directly into the bloodstream, the way it affects various parts of the body is quite intriguing. Depending on how the immune system responds and other co-existing conditions, the risk of the following types of health problems may be more severe than others. Much of it depends on the individual, their family history, past medical concerns, and lifestyle factors.

Here are just some of the medical problems closely associated with periodontal disease:

Diabetes — Each time we begin a conversation on your oral health impact as it relates to the body, diabetes will be one of the first conditions that we mention. Periodontal disease is proven to jeopardize blood glucose levels, making it difficult — if not impossible — for people with diabetes to manage their blood sugar.

In turn, having diabetes does unfortunately tend to increase the severity of chronic gum disease. It’s estimated that about 1 in 5 diabetes will lose all of their teeth because of a periodontal infection. It’s a condition we see on a regular basis in The Woodlands and Conroe.

What we see from consistent research is that treating diabetes and gum disease is something that goes hand-in-hand. It’s not recommended to focus on only one of the conditions, but to rather care for them jointly as a cyclic-type of diagnosis. By stabilizing your oral health and eliminating bad bacteria, diabetics typically see improvement in their blood sugar levels. But only focusing on their diabetes — while ignoring periodontal infections — may not show much improvement even if you’re taking insulin or modifying your diet.

The two-way connection between periodontitis and diabetes is one of the strongest that the medical and dental communities know of. If you know you have diabetes or blood sugar concerns, preventative and therapeutic dental care must play a role in your comprehensive care plan.

Pneumonia and Respiratory Disease — Everything from asthma and pneumonia to bronchitis and COPD has been linked to periodontitis. Depending on which literature you’re reading, some scientists suggest that as many as 60% of these respiratory diseases are somehow brought about by a periodontal infection. While we know that’s not the case for everyone, we do know that people who have gum disease and are intubated during hospitalization are extremely more likely to develop some type of a “ventilator-associated pneumonia”, potentially due to the spread of oral bacteria down into their respiratory tract.

As we struggle with a pandemic that also affects our respiratory systems, at-risk individuals should consider good oral hygiene to improve their overall wellness and lower their respiratory “risk” levels. If you or a loved one in your family struggles with breathing problems or requires the use of inhalation medications or equipment, talk to them about how their gum health could also put them at risk. Consider how daily flossing can reduce oral bacteria and inflammation, which then lessen the chances of bacteria spreading from your mouth to your respiratory tract.

Heart Attack and High Blood Pressure — People with active gum disease are 2x as likely to have cardiovascular disease and 20% more likely to suffer from a cardiovascular attack such as a heart attack or stroke. Cardiovascular diseases are caused by plaque accumulations within our blood vessels. The result is a restriction of blood flow and blockage of blood circulation to certain parts of our body, which then results in conditions like high blood pressure or a heart attack.

We’ve known for years that oral bacteria can spread through infected gums into the bloodstream. Today, we know that cardiovascular health can be improved by managing periodontal disease, with results visible in as little as three months after gum therapy.

Dr. Saunders highly encourages our patients with clinical cardiovascular disease to develop a rigid daily oral hygiene plan. Flossing and brushing, combined with professional periodontal therapies, can potentially help protect yourself against a cardiovascular incident. And if you’ve already suffered from a heart attack or are taking blood pressure medication, you need to be paying mind to bacterial levels inside of your mouth, as we want to prevent them from transferring themselves into your bloodstream.

If you’re not seeing improvement in your cardiovascular health after changes in your diet, exercise, and medication, don’t rule out your dental hygiene! A periodontal cleaning can help you remove the bacteria inside of your mouth to give you a blank slate to work with once you get back home.

Stroke — Approximately one American dies from a stroke every 4 minutes. Unfortunately, the dental bacteria known for causing gum disease have been found within the carotid arteries and blood vessels feeding the brain of people who have died from a stroke. We know these bacteria can spread from the mouth into the bloodstream and these findings suggest that they may also wind up lodged within arterial walls, creating blockages to the brain. And it’s such conditions that breed the perfect storm of suffering from a stroke or “brain attack.”

Good oral hygiene could be considered an essential piece of your stroke prevention plan, alongside of other factors like medications and dietary changes. Since treating periodontitis reduces the active bacterial load inside of your body, you know you’re physically doing something to also help lower your risk of a yet-to-happen stroke.

Rheumatoid Arthritis — Dental professionals have noted that people with RA have a certain type of antibody response that’s essentially brought about by the same type of proteins found in people with chronic gum disease. In studies, researchers suggested that it might not be too much of a stretch to suggest that having a high bacterial load from gum disease might actually “trigger” rheumatoid arthritis in certain individuals.

Interestingly enough, somewhere around 65% of people who have RA also have gum disease, which is twice that of people without RA. Symptoms such as bleeding and gum recession tend to be more common, especially for people who struggle with RA on a regular basis.

What all of that means is that if you have RA, you’re at more of a chance to see inflammation, bone loss, and tooth loss than people without RA. The good news is that the same studies linking the two conditions also suggest that by removing the proteins and oral bacteria through gum therapy, you can potentially improve your RA symptoms.

Obesity — While it’s not proven that having gum disease will increase your weight, we do know that being obese can impact various metabolic conditions. In one study, people who were obese were twice as likely to have gum disease. It was generally thought that the swelling caused by their weight suppressed the normal metabolic function throughout their body, including their gums.

While we can’t say that you’ll improve your weight by addressing gum disease, we do know that improved oral health can help stabilize metabolic disorders. And when your metabolism is stabilized, you might find that it’s easier to address issues related to body weight. In turn, managing obesity and establishing a healthier BMI can also improve body metabolism, lessening the effect of inflammation on all bodily organs as well as the delicate gingival tissues inside of your mouth.

Gum disease doesn’t cause obesity. But if your metabolism is unhealthy, it will be difficult to manage either one. If you’re struggling to treat your periodontal condition to no avail, you may want to try a different approach and reducing overall body inflammation through weight loss at the same time as re-vamping your oral hygiene.

Liver Disease — People with liver disease are considerably high risk for periodontal infections. Since the liver is your body’s “filter” for limiting infections and naturally cleaning your blood supply, liver disease can suppress your immune system. In turn, inflammation — including swollen gums — can start to develop. Being that gum disease can also raise inflammation in the body, the cyclic nature of the two conditions alongside of one another could potentially worsen your overall health, due to the added strain on your liver.

Scientists do know that there are specific enzymes produced by periodontal disease can physically harm tissues in people with fatty liver disease. In more aggressive circumstances, those individuals are at a higher risk of developing cirrhosis of the liver. Liver cancer cannot be ruled out, either.

Fortunately, there is some good news! In some studies, people who treated their gum disease saw improvement in their liver cirrhosis symptoms. So, if you have liver disease or suspect liver problems, be sure to communicate those concerns with our periodontal specialist in The Woodlands.

Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia — For several years, dental and health experts have wondered if there is a direct link between having gum disease and the onset of Alzheimer’s. Most recently, a study on people who had passed away after living with Alzheimer’s disease found that 98% of them had the same bacteria known to cause gum disease found somewhere in their brain. There have also been studies on mice, that show how the bacteria responsible for gum disease create a toxic protein, which then cause deterioration in the brain neurons.

If you’re someone who already has cases of dementia “running in the family” alongside of gum disease, a preventative care approach could include routine dental care to prevent the onset of periodontitis. Especially given that there is a possible chance that the bacteria in our mouths could complicate or potentially worsen a condition you’re predisposed to. And if you already have a loved one who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, assisting them with their preventative dental care might actually be beneficial not just for their oral health, but their overall wellness.

Cancer — In studies of gum disease, researchers found that people who had aggressive periodontitis were more likely to develop some form of cancer. While some studies reflected there was only an increase of about 25%, others showed that there was nearly a 50% higher chance of a cancer diagnosis, depending on the type of cancer.

While there was not one specific type of cancer directly linked to gum disease, the most frequent was lung cancer, followed by colorectal cancer. Other cancers among the study participants included breast, oral, esophageal, pancreatic, stomach, and prostate.

It’s thought that the enzymes associated with periodontal bacteria may also be responsible for triggering the growth of cancerous cells in healthy tissues. In turn, an increase in these bacteria and the spread of bacteria through the body (due to chronic infection) could potentially jeopardize healthy cells elsewhere.

Since we know that periodontal therapy can directly lower the number of bacterial colonies in your mouth, we can also conclude that it reduces strain to the immune system and decreases these toxic enzyme levels overall.

Kidney Disease — People who have end stage renal disease tend to experience oral complications like dry mouth, alterations to the pH of their saliva, and even weakened tooth enamel. The more aggressive a person’s kidney disease is, the more likely they are to see some type of gum problems. Since so many of these individuals take medications — such as blood thinners — or are on dialysis, they may also see an increase of bleeding gums during routine oral hygiene.

Although it’s easy for us to make the connection between kidney disease leading to gum problems, experts also suggest that treating periodontal infections can help prevent the progression of chronic kidney disease.

The best thing to do is to communicate your underlying medical concerns with your dental specialist, whether it be Dr. Saunders or someone else. By understanding other factors at play in your health, we can approach your care from a comprehensive angle rather than one that’s simply isolated to that of your teeth. Especially since in this case, your kidney health is directly impacting the tissue integrity and bleeding levels of your delicate gum tissues.

Gastrointestinal Disorders — We know that oral bacteria can spread through the upper airway and GI tract by swallowing or inhalation (hence why we see an increase in respiratory conditions like pneumonia.) So, it’s no surprise to also see a correlation between dental diseases like periodontitis and various GI disorders.

There is some clinical research out there that suggests people who have irritable bowel disease (IBD) tend to see more flareups if there is untreated periodontal infection. The reason being that the natural intestinal flora is altered due to an offset caused by periodontal bacteria.

Some people go so far as to claim that conditions such as stomach ulcers are linked with their oral health. Although we do know that some specific types of oral ulcers are linked to various viruses, aggressive periodontal disease can also cause ulcerative gingivitis. It’s still unclear as to whether those same bacteria contribute to ulcers within the GI tract.

Infertility — Are you currently trying to conceive? When it comes to how long it takes to get pregnant, both men and women’s oral health can play a role. Couples where one of the partners has gum disease typically take longer periods of time to conceive and generally take longer to become pregnant than couples where both partners have healthy mouths. It doesn’t matter if it’s the mother or father; ultimately both parties need to be healthy in order for conception to occur.

Fortunately, there is some good news to be said. When the partner with the active gum disease receives periodontal care — and the infection is reversed — the average timeframe for conception is typically reduced to about three months. This has been shown through studying numerous couples trying to conceive and comparing them to those with untreated gum disease.

Are you or your spouse having difficulty becoming pregnant? Make oral health part of your fertility plan. Addressing periodontitis may not seem like a priority, but it can statistically improve your rates of conception when infertility is a known concern.

Preeclampsia and Pre-term Labor — Expectant women with clinical gum disease are statistically more at risk of going into labor prematurely, developing preeclampsia, and giving birth to babies with a low birth weight (similar to smokers.) We know that periodontal disease strains the immune system and raises overall inflammation throughout the body. When you add something like pregnancy into the equation, the two don’t go very well together.

If you’ve experienced preeclampsia with prior pregnancies or have delivered a premature baby in the past, and you plan on becoming pregnant again, be sure to brush up on your dental health. Getting screened for periodontal disease symptoms while you’re trying to conceive and early on during your pregnancy can help you improve your overall immunity and prenatal health. Yes, it’s completely safe to get gum treatments during pregnancy; especially when you consider the risk of not getting them at all.

Stillbirth — Approximately 10-25% of all stillbirths are linked to scenarios where the mother has some other type of co-existing infection during her pregnancy. Unfortunately, there are also clinical studies that show the same bacteria associated with dental infections (such as periodontitis) are also found within the placenta in instances of stillbirths.

Since we know oral bacteria can travel through the cardiovascular system, the placenta, and umbilical cord, fetuses are not immune to the risk of bacterial spread. Although these findings are devastating, they provide some insight in regard to promoting healthier pregnancy and reducing the rates of stillbirths in the future. If the threat of preeclampsia or going into labor prematurely was not already a concern, helping expectant mothers avoid the potential loss of their unborn child is reason enough to address chronic oral infections. Thankfully, through good preventative home care and working with a Conroe periodontist like Dr. Saunders, periodontitis is treatable before and during pregnancy. It’s best to not overlook dental concerns until after you’ve given birth, especially if chronic inflammation and bleeding are both present.

Erectile Dysfunction — Men are not immune to the reproductive side-effects of periodontal infections. While most men probably won’t bring the topic up during a dental exam, we do know that there is significant clinical research showing the direct relationship between gum disease and the severity of ED.

Periodontal disease statistically raises inflammation throughout the body. And when inflammation and immune strain are present, treating ED becomes a bit of an uphill battle. Reducing and eliminating the source of infection causing the inflammation should be part of the overall care plan.

If you’re a man who struggles with ED or are not seeing a response to medical treatments and medication, take a look at your mouth. How healthy (or unhealthy, that is) are your gums? If there is inflammation, bleeding, gum recession, and tartar buildup, treating your oral disease should be considered as a co-management approach to battling ED symptoms.

Gum Health Expert in The Woodlands

A healthy smile is one of the best ways to improve your overall wellness. If you have symptoms of gum disease — such as bleeding or swollen gums, gum recession, and bad breath — it’s time to talk to a specialist. Dr. Kip Saunders is one of the most experienced periodontists in The Woodlands, Conroe, and greater North Houston area. Contact us today to reserve your first appointment with us.

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