How Healthy Gums Help Overall Health
What do your gums say about your overall health? Are they pink and firm? Or do you see puffy red gums looking back at you in the mirror? Taking good care of your oral health is vital to overall health, as studies confirm a link between the oral cavity and infectious and inflammatory diseases of the cardiovascular and endocrine systems, as well as being associated with preterm births and low birth weight.1-2,6
Smile! You have mouth bacteria.
Mouth bacteria are a fact life—we all have ’em. Because the teeth are the only nonshedding surface of the body, oral bacterial levels can become quite high.2 The buildup of bacteria is a sticky film known as plaque. Plaque that stays on the teeth and hardens is known as tartar, or calculus. Tartar is what irritates the gingiva, the area of gum along the base of the teeth.2 It is this accumulation of tartar, and all the bacteria it contains, that can give rise to inflammation of the gums, or gum disease.3
When mild, gum disease may appear as red, swollen gums. Left unchecked, it can become more serious and lead to painful, bleeding gums and tooth loss, as well as potentially affect overall health by bacteria that travel to more distant sites within the body.2
How oral bacteria enters the bloodstream
Bacteria found naturally in the mouth are held at bay by a defense system that provides a barrier between the mouth and bloodstream.4 However, oral bacteria can penetrate into gum tissue from dental procedures such as a cleaning, tooth extraction, and endodontic therapy (root canal). This is why people with certain pre-existing heart conditions need to take antibiotics before seeing the dentist.2
Other ways that oral bacteria enter the bloodstream is via a compromised immune system, mouth trauma, and being on immunosuppressant therapy.5 And for those who have poor oral hygiene, the issue of oral bacteria can increase severalfold.5
The link between inflamed gums and health
As noted previously, studies have demonstrated the link between the oral cavity and infectious and inflammatory diseases.1 Here is a more specific look at what oral bacteria is capable of.
Oral bacteria and cardiovascular disease
The cardiovascular system is particularly vulnerable to oral bacteria, with studies noting that it can collect in the coronary artery and produce structural and immunologic changes associated with early heart disease.6
- Oral bacteria, while relatively harmless in the mouth, is attracted to damaged endothelial cells (which form the linings of blood vessels and help with tissue growth and repair) and blood clots in the heart.
- The bacteria attaches, multiplies, and can trigger inflammation of the heart’s inner lining.6
- The bacteria may also contribute to elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, which can predict risk factors for developing a hardening and narrowing of the arteries and future cardiovascular issues.5,6
Blood sugar disorders and oral bacteria
For those with blood sugar disorders, there is a greater likelihood of developing periodontal disease.7
- A blood sugar disorder can make people more susceptible to contracting infections—including periodontal disease.7
- Periodontal disease can make it more challenging to control blood sugar levels and puts people at risk for complications due to higher blood sugar.7
The effects of oral bacteria on birth weight and premature delivery
Oral infection has been associated with an increased risk of low birth weight (2,500 grams, or 5½ lb.) in newborns, as well as premature birth.2,6
- When oral bacteria travel from gum tissues into the bloodstream, it stimulates the production of inflammatory mediators (chemicals that induce activity in bodily tissues) responsible for starting delivery.8
- Case-control studies have shown that women with low-birth-weight infants tend to have more severe periodontal disease than women with normal-birth-weight infants.9,10
- It has been suggested that preterm labor can be induced by infection or inflammation at a distant site from the uterus that may lead to the release of prostaglandins (which act like signals to control certain body processes like labor), causing inappropriately timed uterine contractions.11,12
Early signs of gum disease
It may take a moment to digest the fact that oral health can influence overall health. You may also wonder what you need to look for to ensure you don’t miss the early signs of gum disease. Here are a few indicators:13
- Red gums that are swollen and tender
- Bleeding gums when eating, brushing, and flossing
- Receding gums (your teeth look longer)
- Sores in the mouth or pus between the teeth and gums
If you have any of these signs, it is important to see your dentist as soon as possible.
Regular dental care and other preventative measures
The best medicine is an ounce of prevention, especially when it addresses the link between oral health and overall wellness. There are many things you can do at home to help keep your gums healthy:14
- Floss at least once a day
- Brush twice a day (minimum)
- Use a mouth rinse designed to reduce oral bacteria
- Avoid sugary food and drink
Of course, the standard of care in the treatment and prevention of gum disease should include regular visits to the dentist for cleanings (and to identify gum disease early so that it can be treated).13 Ask your dentist or dental hygienist for more information about how to keep your mouth as healthy as possible for a lifetime of smiles.
This content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare professional for advice on medical issues.
- Beck J et al. J Periodontol. 1996;67(10 Suppl):1123-1137.
- Masthan KMK et al. Biomedical & Pharmacology Journal. 2016;9(2):863-866.
- https://www.dentalhealth.ie/dentalhealth/causes/periodontaldisease.html. Accessed March 11, 2019.
- Avila M et al. DNA Cell Biol. 2009;28(8):405-411.
- https://www.ada.org/en/member-center/oral-health-topics/antibiotic-prophylaxis. Accessed February 20, 2019.
- Babu N et al. J Oral Maxillofac Pathol. 2011;15(2):144—147.
- https://www.perio.org/consumer/gum-disease-and-diabetes.htm. Accessed February 20, 2019.
- Ahmad H et al. Iran J Reprod Med. 2013;11(8):625–630.
- Thoden SK et al. J Clin Periodontol. 1984;11:209—220.
- Hillier SL et al. N Engl J Med. 1988;319:972—978.
- Heasman PA et al. J Clin Periodontol. 1998;25:1003—1007.
- Pai JK et al. N Engl J Med. 2004;351:2599—2610.
- https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/health-info/gum-disease/more-info. Accessed March 11, 2019.
- Fletcher J. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323534.php. Accessed March 11, 2019.
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