Dr. Rita Feldmanis understands that for patients dealing with the condition, gum disease can cause some unpleasant problems to develop that could negatively impact their long-term oral health. While gum disease routinely causes problems like bleeding gums, and gums that feel swollen, inflamed and tender, the condition can also increase your risk for a variety of other seemingly unconnected health problems.
Plaque – a stick biofilm comprised of harmful oral bacteria and food particles that remain in the mouth after eating – builds up on the surface of our teeth and along the gum line. If not removed with daily brushing and flossing, plaque can start to irritate gum tissue, leading to the development of gum disease.
During early stage gum disease – a condition more commonly referred to as gingivitis – gums may become swollen or infected. Fortunately, you can lower the risk for gum disease by brushing and flossing daily. However, if left to develop, gingivitis can progress into the far more serious periodontitis, an aggressive form of the disease that destroys the underlying structure that holds our teeth into position.
If you received a gum disease diagnosis from Dr. Rita Feldmanis, know that you’re not alone. Nearly half of all adult in the U.S. deal with some degree of gum disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
By now the mechanisms behind gum disease are relatively well understood by researchers, and newer studies continue to show that gum disease may actually play a role in the development of a variety of other chronic health conditions, including heart disease, stroke high blood pressure and diabetes.
Let’s take a look at some of the most surprising connections researchers have uncovered regarding gum disease and an increased risk for certain types of diseases.
Gum Disease & Dementia
While you might not initially think that gum health would have any effect on our mental health, studies have found some surprising connections between gum disease and certain neurological conditions.
Researchers have discovered a link between gum disease and tooth loss and an individual’s cognitive function. One study that followed nearly 600 men for up to 32 years concluded “risk of cognitive decline in older men increases as more teeth are lost. Periodontal disease and cavities, major reasons for tooth loss, are also related to cognitive decline.”
Studies have also linked gum disease with an increased buildup of beta-amyloid in the brain – the neurological sign post for Alzheimer’s.
Other research has found evidence that one type of bacteria commonly associated with the development of gum disease – P. gingivalis – can be found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Building on that study, more recent research found that P. gingivalis infection increases the production of beta-amyloid in the brain.
Going forward, researchers hope that by targeting the role P. gingivalis plays in the development of Alzheimer’s they may be able to “slow or prevent further neurodegeneration and accumulation of pathology in Alzheimer’s patients.”
Gum Disease & Heart Health
Even though not every patient with heart disease has gum disease, and vice versa, there does appear to be a correlation.
While individuals who both smoke and drink heavily have a higher risk for developing both cardiovascular and gum health issues, there appears to be more to this connection than a few shared risk factors.
Whether gum disease exists as an independent risk factor for heart disease remains a debated issue, but researchers do have theories on what connects these two conditions. The primary issue at hand seems to be inflammation.
Inflammation is an autoimmune system response to foreign pathogens or irritants in the body. While inflammation sounds unfortunate, it’s actually a protective mechanism deployed by the body. However, if inflammation continues for an extended period of time, it can start to damage organs and tissue.
For evidence as to what connects these condition, researchers have found our old friend P. gingivalis in the heart valves of heart disease patients.
Gum Disease & Cancer Risk
While cancer also falls into the same category of diseases you wouldn’t think have anything to do with gum disease, studies have found they do have much in common.
One study that examined cancer risk and tooth loss in in over 48,000 men found a link between gum disease and cancer. The researchers noted that “periodontal disease was associated with a small, but significant, increase in overall cancer risk.”
Another study, which involved over 68,000 adults, also found a strong link between overall cancer risk and gum disease, especially pancreatic cancer.
So what’s behind this connection? A study published in the journal Nature suggests that an enzyme produces by a type of bacteria commonly associated with gum disease – Treponema denticola – commonly appears in certain tumors of the gastrointestinal system.
Researchers believe this enzyme can actually help harmful bacteria to enter and invade gum tissue. They also believe the enzyme can activate other enzymes that help to promote the growth of cancerous cells in the body.
Dr. Rita Feldmanis Can Help Protect Your Health
While this information may seem dire, it actually shows some reason for hope when viewed from the right perspective. If gum disease increases your risk for certain diseases, you can actually successfully lower that risk by practice quality oral hygiene at home.
By simply brushing twice a day, flossing daily and scheduling regular exams and cleanings with Dr. Rita Feldmanis, you can significantly lower your risk for gum disease and all the other diseases associated with it. Now that’s certainly a reason to smile.
To learn more about the connections between gum disease and your health, make sure to ask Dr. Rita Feldmanis during your next visit.