Your dentist keeps warning you about bleeding or inflamed gums — gum disease — for a reason. They can be a gateway to serious health issues.
Periodontal disease, the result of infections and inflammations of the gums, affects nearly 50 percent of U.S. adults aged 30 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The problem increases with age; 70 percent of U.S. adults 65 and over have some form of periodontal disease. Those sizable portions of the population are at increased risk heart disease, stroke, cancer, erectile dysfunction, and prostate problems.
“Lousy gums can lead to more health concerns than many people may realize,” says Dr. Harold Katz, a dentist, bacteriologist and developer of TheraBreath Healthy Gums Oral Rinse. “The bacteria in our mouths can spread throughout the body, and the results can be devastating.
“When you brush, floss and rinse regularly, you are doing more than caring for your teeth and gums. You are also taking care of your overall health.”
Katz says major health concerns researchers have associated with gum disease include:
Heart disease. Several studies have shown a link between periodontitis and heart disease. “The same bacteria causing periodontitis symptoms like inflammation, bleeding, and bone loss around teeth can travel through the bloodstream to the arteries,” Katz says. “Bacteria can latch onto the walls of the arteries and cause small blood clots, increasing the risk of restricted blood flow to the heart.”
Stroke. The findings from a study titled “Impacts Of Periodontitis On Nonfatal Ischemic Stroke” showed that patients who suffered a stroke also had evidence of an oral infection. “Research has indicated that gum disease is nearly equal to high blood pressure as a source of causing strokes,” Katz says.
Cancer. “Bacteria swells the gums, and it can cause similar reactions to other tissues,” Katz says. A study published in Cancer Research found that some of the same types of bacteria that trigger periodontal disease may also be linked to a higher risk of esophageal cancer. Another investigation, in the Annals of Oncology, found that men with an advanced form of periodontitis were 45 percent more likely to get diagnosed with cancer. “More proof you are simply endangering yourself while leaving bad gums unattended, allowing bacteria to spread,” Katz says.
Erectile dysfunction. Research has suggested there’s a connection between systemic inflammation – the kind that could be caused by that traveling bacteria in your mouth – and increased risk of developing impotence. In research from Taiwan, men with erectile dysfunction were 79 percent more likely to have been diagnosed with chronic periodontal disease.
Prostate-specific antigen (PSA). When the prostate becomes inflamed or infected, PSA levels increase, notes the American Academy of Periodontology. “The AAP states that men with indicators of periodontal disease tend to have higher levels of PSA, as well as more inflammation of the prostate,” Katz says. That can lead to a condition known as prostatitis, which can be manifest in painful irritation, difficult ejaculation, and urination urgency.
“It’s simple: Maintaining healthy gums increases your chances of a healthy body,” Katz says. “Poor oral hygiene causes infection of the gums. It can send toxins into the bloodstream. It’s being proven that having good oral hygiene is one of the most important preventative health measures one can take.”