Is Your Mouth the Key to Your Health?
Healthy teeth and gums impact more than your appearance. Health studies have identified links between oral health and overall health. Researchers are unsure whether the links are a matter of cause and effect or simply correlative, but there is no doubt the condition of your mouth is relevant to the health of your entire body.
Oral Health and Diabetes
In 2008, results of an ongoing study of 9,296 non-diabetic subjects was published. The subjects’ level of periodontic bacteria was followed over 20 years. The researchers found that people who had periodontal disease were at twice the risk of developing type 2 diabetes during those two decades as compared to people without gum disease. Scientists speculate that gum disease causes inflammation throughout the body, which negatively affects your body’s ability to process sugar.
Oral Health and Heart Disease
Poor oral health and heart disease often co-exist, but it has not been definitively proven that one causes the other. However, a 2005 NIK study of 1,056 randomly-selected subjects with no pre-existing cardiovascular disease or strokes were evaluated for periodontal disease. After setting aside other risk factors, such as age, gender and smoking, the study found an independent relationship between gum disease and heart disease. It is thought that bacteria from infected gums may enter the bloodstream and lodge in blood vessels. Another study demonstrated that aggressively treating gum disease reduces atherosclerosis within half a year.
Pregnancy Complications and Gum Disease
Fluctuating hormone levels in pregnancy can predispose pregnant women to gum infections. Scientists believe that the inflammation of gum disease may trigger an increase in prostaglandin, a chemical that can cause premature labor. One study found that pregnant women who develop periodontal disease between the twenty-first and twenty-fourth week of their pregnancy are four to seven times more likely to deliver before week 37. Poor gum health has also been linked to low birth weight.
Pneumonia and Gum Disease
Studies of high risk populations has established a link between poor oral health and pneumonia. Research with elderly participants found those with gum disease were 3.9 times as likely to develop pneumonia. Bacteria can be aspirated into the lungs, which can also aggravate chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD).
Pancreatic Cancer and Gum Disease
A research study published in 2007 surveyed 51,529 American men about their health biannually between 1986 and 2002. Two hundred sixteen participants developed pancreatic cancer; 67 of them had periodontal disease. Removing smoking as a factor, the study determined gum disease was associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer. The pancreas is also intimately tied to the development of diabetes, although researchers do not yet know the mechanism that causes the cancer.
Further research will undoubtedly reveal more about the effect of poor oral health on whole body health. Meanwhile, however, it is clear that dental health, and particularly gum health, are integral to your overall wellbeing.