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Does Gum Disease Cause Other Serious Health Issues?

You gingivitis may be more serious than you think. Gingivitis, which is inflammation in the gums and is usually caused by improper or inconsistent oral hygiene, often leads to more serious oral health problems such as gum disease or periodontitis. And gum disease has been linked with many other more serious conditions such as diabetes, dementia, heart disease and respiratory infections.

Gingivitis is the least severe form of gum disease and is often classified as inflamed gums that look red and will bleed when brushing or flossing. Gingivitis is reversible and easily treatable with better oral hygiene habits. (See our article Tips on Treating Gingivitis.) The more severe form of gum disease is periodontal disease or periodontitis. In the most severe forms, gum disease can result in intense pain and lost teeth.

Research has found that oral hygiene is not the only factor in developing gum disease. The American Academy of Periodontology says that up to 30 percent of Americans are genetically predisposed to gum disease. Those who are susceptible due to genetics are six times more likely to develop gum disease than those without a family history. If gum disease does run in your family, your dentist may be able to recommend some extra preventative measures to help prevent gum disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there potentially are links between gum disease and other serious medical conditions. Gum disease is caused by high levels of bacteria in the mouth and those bacteria can make it into your bloodstream. For people with a healthy and functioning immune system, the bacteria are usually harmless. However, for those with compromised immune systems, these bacterium have been associated with other health problems, including stroke, heart disease, diabetes, premature birth and dementia.

Though these links have been established, more research is needed to understand why the links exist. Currently, scientists don’t know if gum disease causes these other health problems or if their coexistence is coincidence. Here are some specifics about the connection between gum disease and other health problems.

Heart disease: People with gum disease are twice as likely to have coronary artery disease as those without it. Doctors believe this link exists because the oral bacteria can enter the bloodstream and then attach to the fatty plaque in the heart vessels. This kind of heart disease increases your risk for heart attacks and clots.

Dementia: Gum disease has been linked to dementia and is believed to increase the risk of dementia because oral bacteria can travel through cranial nerves that connect from your jaw to your brain.

Diabetes: Doctors aren’t sure if gum disease is a symptom of diabetes or if people with gum disease are more likely to develop diabetes. Research has revealed that gum disease can make it difficult to control blood sugar levels and therefore to manage diabetes. This connection is especially strong in people who do not have their diabetes regularly regulated.

Respiratory infections: Gum disease can increase your risk of developing respiratory infections such as pneumonia. Doctors believe that the oral bacteria can be inhaled into your lungs, causing your airways to become inflamed.

Fertility and pregnancy: Gum disease can also affect a woman’s fertility. In one study, women with gum disease took, on average, two months longer to become pregnant than those without gum disease. Gum disease also increases the risk for miscarriages and the birth of premature babies.

Cancer: Research has discovered that men with gum disease were 49 percent more likely to develop kidney cancer, 54 percent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer and 30 percent more likely to develop blood cancers. Those are some astonishing numbers!

Though your gingivitis may not seem like a big issue, there are more health issues that go along with gum disease than just slightly inflammation. Be sure to brush your teeth and floss every day to get the healthiest teeth and mouth possible. Only then can you be sure that your body will be healthy as well.

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