You may not realize just how closely the condition of your mouth is linked with your overall state of health according to a good deal of recent research. Turns out, a healthy mouth doesn’t just look great and feel great, it’s good for you too. Not caring for your teeth and gums can open the door to all kinds of health issues.
Here’s what we know.
Type 2 diabetes and gum disease
Type 2 diabetics have a higher incidence of periodontitis (gum disease). The connection was reaffirmed in July 2008 by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. They examined 9,296 subjects who were diabetes free, measuring the amount of periodontal bacteria they had over a 20-year span of time. Those who had higher levels of periodontal disease also had a twofold chance of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes during the study, compared to those with no gum disease or low levels of bacteria in their mouths.
There are some interesting theories about why this might be. One suggests that when infections in the mouth get bad enough, they bring low-grade inflammation all through the body, and this causes all kinds of trouble for your sugar processing abilities. It may be that some inflammatory molecules attach to insulin receptors and keep the body’s cells from using the insulin as it should to get glucose inside the cell.
Another theory to explain the link between gum disease and diabetes involves damage to the pancreas. This is an example of a localized infection that’s capable of impacting a systemic organ that is tied to the pathophysiology of diabetes.
Gum infections and preterm birth, low birth weight
Gum infections during pregnancy are just one of many things that are the result of all those fluctuating hormones. Often patients put aside their own oral care during pregnancy… an easy thing to do with all the appointments and pressing things on your mind. This is a mistake. Experts think that inflammation in the mouth may trigger an increase in a compound known as prostaglandin that might induce early labor.
This theory hasn’t been confirmed by research, but a 2001 project found that women who were pregnant and developed gum disease between weeks 21 and 24 were four to seven times more likely to deliver before week 37. That’s impressive evidence. There’s even the suggestion that extremely poor gum health can lead to low birth weight. Two other studies in 2007 of Turkish and Brazilian women supported the ideal of a link between gum problems and both preterm birth, lower birth weight.
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Main Diseases Link To Gum Problems Continued…
Gum disease and the heart
Oral health and heart disease have also been recognized as being connected, the two are very often found together in a patient. Still there’s no research bringing us evidence of a direct causal relationship. One of the difficulties lies in the fact that there are any number of risk factors that can also put you at risk for gum disease and heart problems. In 2005, an NIH funded study of 1,056 randomly selected subjects with no history of heart attacks/stroke who were evaluated for periodontal bacteria levels showed there was an independent relationship between heart disease and gum disease.
Why might this be? Small amounts of bacteria get into your bloodstream as you chew. This gives infectious bacteria a chance to lodge themselves inside a blood vessel, potentially leading to a dangerous blockage. Adding weight to this thinking is that when experts have examined atherosclerotic blood vessels they’ve found fragments of periodontal bacteria.
A study appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007 also established that aggressive treatment of gum disease cuts the risk of atherosclerosis in just six months. That’s astonishing, and one more reason why taking care of your dental health is so very important.
Gum disease and pneumonia
There’s even been a link established between bad oral health and pneumonia, though the work centers on high-risk populations, like the elderly. A 2008 study of this exact population found that the number of subjects diagnosed with pneumonia was 3.9 times higher in those with periodontal infection than in those who did not have it. The lungs are close to the mouth, and there is a lot of bacteria in there.
Bacteria from a mouth that’s not healthy can get aspirated into the lungs, causing problems with existing COPD or bringing on pneumonia. There are several CDC studies that have found better oral health can lead to a drop in respiratory infections of this kind.
Gum disease and cancer of the pancreas
Based on a 2007 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that surveyed over 50,000 American men about their health, the link between pancreatic cancer and periodontal disease was striking. No matter what their smoking status, having a history of periodontal disease was linked to a higher risk of pancreatic cancer. This could be due to the systemic inflammation, or carcinogenic compounds produced in an infected mouth.
Now you see why it’s so important to take care of your teeth and gums. So make (and keep) that next cleaning appointment and you’ll be glad you did.
To your good health,