The dangers of gum disease – Worse than you think!
Periodontitis (gum disease) is a common and uncomfortable oral problem. If not treated properly, the consequences are immeasurable. Recent scientific studies have shown that gum disease is the cause of a host of other, seemingly unrelated health problems, including cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, and even cancer.
As we eat, plaques containing bacteria will accumulate on our teeth. If they are not removed soon, bacteria will grow, causing the gums to swell, hurt or become infected. This condition is known as gingivitis. In general, gum disease can be treated or prevented with good oral care. However, without proper oral hygiene, gingivitis can develop into gum disease, weakening the teeth’s supporting structures.
Nowadays, the popularity of gum disease is increasing at an alarming rate. As reported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about half of adults in the US are affected by the condition. Recent studies have found out many dangers of gum disease. Specifically, periodontitis is the potential cause of various other conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and respiratory issues.
Brain function impairment
You may find it hard to believe that gum disease has something to do with nerve cells. However, research has discovered a strong link between gum disease and tooth loss and cognitive function. In particular, a study conducted on 597 men over a 32-year period reached the following conclusion:
The risk of cognitive decline in older adults increases with the loss of more teeth. Periodontal disease and tooth decay, the main cause of tooth loss, have a great impact on cognitive impairment.
Several other experiments on the dangers of gum disease have identified a common type of bacteria found in periodontitis patients – porphyromonas gingivalis – in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.
Continuing that discovery, in a more recent study, researchers showed that P. gingivalis infection increases beta-amyloid production in the brain. In this study, the researchers paid special attention to an enzyme produced by P. gingivalis called gingipain. They found that this protease is toxic to tau, another protein that plays a major role in Alzheimer’s disease.
Although not everyone with heart disease has gum disease and vice versa, there is a deep correlation between these two conditions. Specifically, long-term inflammation in the gums may spread to other organs and tissues, hence cáuing inflammation in the cardiovascular system. In addition, in patients with periodontitis, the bacteria in the gums can travel to other organs via the bloodstream, causing inflammation and damage. In fact, research has shown that P. gingivalis is the most common bacterium found in coronary arteries.
Risk of cancer
Among the dangers of gum disease is the risk of cancer. In 2008, a study regarding tooth loss and cancer in 48,375 men suggested that there is a strong association between gum disease and cancer.
Recently, another study on 68,000 adults found a strong link between gum disease and cancer risk, including pancreatic cancer. To explain this, the researchers discovered that an enzyme produced by a bacteria that causes gum disease – Treponema denticola – often appears in some tumors of the digestive system. This enzyme, known as T. denticola chymotrypsin-like proteinase, helps bacteria invade tissues in gum disease. Besides, it also activates other enzymes that promote the growth of cancer cells as they penetrate healthy tissues.
It is estimated that about 50% of men over 40 years old have erectile dysfunction. Erectile dysfunction usually occurs because the smooth muscle lining the walls of the blood vessels loses its ability to relax (endothelial dysfunction), preventing vasodilation and erection of the penis. Gingivitis in periodontal disease can lead to endothelial dysfunction, which increases the risk of erectile dysfunction.
In February 2019, a study on 1,380 men found a significant relationship between chronic gum disease and respiratory function impairment. Specifically, inflammation in the gums increases the risk of inflammation in the tubes of the lungs, making them narrower and restricting airflow.
In addition, bacteria in the mouth such as P. gingivalis can be inhaled into the lungs, causing infection and inflammation. Similarly, enzymes produced in patients with gum disease can invade lung tissues and cause respiratory problems. In the long term, cell changes caused by inflammation will increase the risk of cancer.
The dangers of gum disease are enormous. If not treated promptly and properly, periodontal disease can give rise to serious complications such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Therefore, in addition to maintaining good oral hygiene, you should regularly pay a visit to reputable dental clinics for early diagnosis and treatment of periodontitis.
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The health risks of gum disease. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/health-risks-of-gum-disease/. Accessed on December 31, 2019.
The unexpected dangers of gum disease. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324485.php#1. Accessed on December 31, 2019.
Dangers of Gum Disease. https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/video/dangers-gum-disease. Accessed on December 31, 2019.