On your list of priorities, irritable gums are likely way down there. We get it. But those sore gums could lead to much deeper concerns down the road. “People think of gum disease in terms of their teeth, but they don’t think about the fact that gum disease is a serious infection that can release bacteria into the bloodstream,” noted Dr. Robert J. Genco, a former editor of the Journal of Periodontology. More recent research is demonstrating that inflammation may be an even stronger link between periodontitis and several other chronic diseases. Here’s a brief overview of some of the more devastating long-term ramifications of periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease makes you twice as likely to contract coronary artery disease—a condition in which the walls of the coronary arteries thicken from the buildup of fatty proteins, increasing the likelihood of a heart attack. Research is also beginning to indicate a link to strokes. Periodontal disease has been shown, too, to exacerbate existing heart conditions.
Periodontal disease and diabetes are closely intertwined. For one, periodontitis makes it harder for diabetics to control their blood sugar. In fact, severe periodontitis is capable of increasing blood sugar. By contrast, a landmark study found that diabetics who had their periodontitis treated were much more successful at managing their diabetes. And, as a whole, treating the inflammation may help manage both periodontitis and other chronic inflammatory conditions, according to the latest research.
A pregnant woman with periodontal disease is seven times more likely to have a baby born prematurely and at a below-average weight. If the disease worsens over the course of the pregnancy, that likelihood increases even more.
Researchers have found that men with periodontal disease are 54% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than women, 49% more likely to develop kidney cancer, and 30% more likely to develop blood cancers. Overall, men with a history of periodontal disease are 14% more likely to be diagnosed with some form of cancer than men with healthy gums.
Research is beginning to define the link between periodontal disease and osteoporosis. In a study of more than 1,200 post-menopausal women, the women who had periodontal bacteria in their mouths were more likely to have bone loss in their oral cavities, a precursor for tooth loss if left untreated. Another study, this one spanning more than a decade, found that post-menopausal women could significantly reduce their risk of tooth loss by simply treating their periodontal disease.
Did you know?
Periodontal disease can be passed through saliva. That’s right. Your low-priority concern can suddenly become your husband or wife’s problem too, or even your kids’. The good news: In most cases, the disease’s progression can be halted immediately with treatment and your gums can be restored.