Maintaining oral health isn’t simply a way to a winning smile. It can also protect you against a number of systemic health conditions that have been linked to oral health problems such as gum disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 50 percent of American adults suffer from gum disease. That equates to roughly 65 million Americans who are at greater risk of developing a serious systemic health condition.
Gum disease is an inflammatory condition caused by bacterial growth in the mouth. Over time, the bacteria eats away at the connective tissue of the teeth and bone, eventually leading to tooth loss. The real damage occurs when this oral bacteria enters the bloodstream or airway and is shuttled around the body to potentially devastating effect.
Here are six serious health conditions that have been linked to gum disease:
1. Heart Disease
A number of studies have linked gum disease to heart disease, according to the American Academy of Periodontology. Although the causative link has not been unequivocally proven, experts believe that the inflammation caused by gum disease could be an increased risk factor for heart disease. (Inflammation and swelling could lead to hardening of the arteries.) Gum disease also is believed to have a detrimental effect on existing heart conditions.
A study by the American Heart Association found that severe gum disease was a risk factor for ischemic stroke. However, the study noted that it only increased the risk of stroke in men under the age of 60.==============
In addition to making its way into the bloodstream, bacteria from gum disease can also escape into the airway where it can affect the neck and chest. If the pathogens infiltrate the lungs it can lead to pneumonia. Although very treatable, pneumonia is still the cause of some 50,000+ deaths each year in the United States alone.
Like gum disease, atherosclerosis is an inflammatory disease. Inflammation leads to plaque buildup in the arteries which can inhibit blood flow and have serious consequences such as heart attack and stroke. Furthermore, studies have shown that treatment of gum disease can improve arterial health.==============
5. Premature Birth
The hormonal changes associated with pregnancy make women more likely to suffer gum health issues (pregnancy gingivitis). Pregnant women suffering from severe gum disease face an increased risk of premature birth, gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Low birth weight and fetal loss also have been linked with gum disease.
Gum disease has been identified as a risk factor for cancer. Although the link has not been unequivocally proven, studies have nonetheless yielded a statistically significant increase in cancer risk for gum disease sufferers.