Chronic Disease and Your Teeth
Gum Disease Can Wreak Havoc Well Beyond Our Mouths
There’s an old saying that the eyes are the windows to the soul. But new medical research shows that the condition of our gums and teeth may act as a window to other serious health risks.
Older adults with periodontal (gums) disease should be extra vigilant. Studies link gum disease to a variety of other systemic or “whole body” chronic health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and even osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease.
What’s the Relationship?
Scientists believe that bacteria from untreated gum disease enters the blood stream and then travels to major organs like the heart where, in that instance, the bacteria attaches to fatty plaques in the coronary arteries. This could lead to a heart attack.
Gum disease may also prove an unfortunate complication for diabetics who are more susceptible to infection. Even our bone health can be related to our gums. Bone loss in postmenopausal women may show up on a dental x-ray and could point to osteoporosis in someone who may not have yet had a bone density test (which we would recommend!).
A Chain Reaction
Research also links the chronic inflammation of gum disease to an inflammatory response that can damage brain tissue and contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. A person with severe or untreated gum disease might not eat properly, could lose weight and energy which leads to muscle atrophy. Lack of exercise helps accelerate mental health degeneration.
The bottom line: Patients with gum disease, especially older adults, need to pay attention to changes in their body. If you already have a chronic medical condition, tell your dentist. Don’t overlook the relationship between your ailment and your teeth and gums.
Taking daily medications for conditions like blood pressure and depression may lead to dry mouth. A lack of saliva can leave us more susceptible to periodontal disease. Some helpful tips:
- Use a lip moisturizer
- Suck on tart, sugarless hard candies or chew sugarless gum
- Avoid salty dry foods
- Rinse your mouth with water or recommended oral rinses
- Try a commercially-available saliva substitute
- Use a specially formulated toothpaste or non-alcohol based mouthwash