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How Gum Health Interacts With Your Other Health Conditions

woman's gumsDid you know that proper oral hygiene is essential for good health overall? That’s right: brushing and flossing your teeth and maintaining a regular program of dental office visits can help you stave off and prevent the worsening of a variety of medical conditions. While it may not seem possible at first, there’s a link between dental health and many other health issues.

In many cases, oral health issues are actually a symptom of the condition. This is the case with diabetes. In other cases, the periodontal issues can cause or contribute to causing the disease. While the exact nature of the link between gum disease and some conditions isn’t completely established, it’s clear that many links exist — and that clearing up oral health issues is a smart decision for maintain good quality of life for as long as possible.

Your mouth, after all, is part of your body, as holistic dentists are always trying to point out. And the research is mounting to prove connections between many conditions of the whole body or parts of it and the bacteria normally found in the mouth.

So let’s take a few moment to sort out some of the ways gum disease is linked with other conditions, and we’ll start with one of the most common diseases in the world.


It’s clear and long established that gum disease is a complication of being diabetic. The excess sugar in the blood that’s one of the markers of diabetes changes the very nature of blood vessels and therefore makes important changes in the way blood flows. This reduction in flow to the mouth can weaken gums over time and increase the vulnerability of this sensitive tissue to infection, according to longstanding research. Also, high blood sugar that’s common in untreated diabetics can actually encourage more bacteria to grow in the mouth.

In fact, the link is so strong between gum disease and diabetes that a 2011 study found that two-thirds of dentists can accurately predict diabetes by examining the mouth. This is important since it’s believed that more than 7 million people have the condition and don’t know it.

Heart Disease

If you have a family history of heart disease, you need to be especially careful about maintaining the integrity of your gums. A number of studies have been clear that there’s a link between gum disease and heart disease as well as stroke. A particular 2003 study review found that there was a 19 percent increase in the risk that people with gum issues would get heart disease when compared with the average person on the street. And you don’t want to do anything that can raise your risk of something as serious as heart disease.

Researchers can’t pinpoint exactly why there is a link, but it’s clearly there. One reason may be because gum disease increases inflammation in the body, and inflammation is known to be a risk factor for heart disease. It could also be because bacteria in the mouth can enter the bloodstream easily and build up along with the plaque already building up in arteries. One study has shown that mouth bacteria is sometimes in plaque found in the arteries.

While it can’t be said for certain that gum disease increases your risk of heart problems, you need to take heed if you have a history of heart disease or other risk factors like smoking, advanced years or diabetes.


We know that pregnancy isn’t exactly a disease or condition, but there is a link between gum disease in pregnant women and an increased risk of preterm birth. While the studies can’t say for sure that gum problems lead to premature births, researchers think that an immune response to infection in the mouth could be a reason why the birth process starts too soon.

It’s unfortunate, however, that there’s no evidence that treating the gum problem causes the risk of preterm birth to go down.

Additionally, a study from 2011 in Australia found that you may take longer to get pregnant if you have gum disease, so that’s something else to think about.

Knee Arthritis

A study conducted in 2012 showed that bacteria in the mouth can contribute to arthritis. The researchers determined this by taking a synovial fluid sample from around the joints of 36 patients with arthritic conditions, and five of those had mouth bacteria in the joint fluid. Of those, two patients had bacteria that was able to be matched genetically to the kind of bacteria in their mouth.

This establishes that bacteria from the mouth may make arthritis worse. But the study was very small, and more research is necessary — but it’s one more reason to clear up oral infections as soon as possible, especially if you already have arthritis.

Respiratory Disease

The bacteria in your mouth may also find its way into your lungs when you breath in tooth plaque, and that can lead to pneumonia and other severe respiratory issues. The risk s greatest if you have underlying conditions, it appears, especially if your immune system is compromised.

This much seems clear: emphysema and other chronic lung problems can be made worse by mouth bacteria — and you certainly don’t want that.

And this is also clear: the link between oral bacteria and various manifestations of bad health is strong. That’s why it’s important that you discuss any conditions you have or may be at risk for with your dentist as you consider treating your oral health issues.

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