Consider the gums. They’re not particularly sexy and most of us take them for granted without ever considering their usefulness. Made up of three distinct parts — the periodontal ligament and the aveolar process, which anchor the teeth within the jaw, and the gingiva, the pink (or sometimes brown) tissue that we think of as the gums — the gums are incredibly important to the development and stability of our teeth. Moreover, current research shows that gum health, and specifically the presence of gum disease, may have a significant impact on other aspects of our general health.
Oral-Systemic Health: A Brief Overview
In dentistry, oral-systemic health refers to the concept that the mouth and its structures are one system within the network of related systems we call the human body. These systems are all interconnected and a problem in one system will cause problems in other systems. For example, the presence of gum disease in the mouth may impact lung health or exacerbate inflammation in other parts of the body. Conversely, a problem in another part of the body, such as diabetes, could make you more likely to develop an oral health problem like gum disease.
Gum Health Linked to Overall Health
Research in the area of oral-systemic health is ongoing. However, some highlights include:
Gum Disease and Cardiovascular Problems
Although the exact nature of the link between cardiovascular diseases and gum disease isn’t clear, the American Academy of Periodontology reports that having people with gum disease are two times more likely to have heart disease. Alternately, some studies have found that gum disease is an accurate predictor of heart disease and high cholesterol.
Gum Disease and Diabetes
Gum disease and diabetes have a particularly dangerous relationship, since each illness tends to exacerbate the severity of the other. The American Academy of Periodontology reports that people with diabetes have a higher rate of gum disease, while gum disease makes it more difficult for people with diabetes to control their blood sugar.
Ensuring that you maintain healthy gums is relatively simple. Consistent dental hygiene at home, via brushing and flossing, and regular checkups with a general dentist are your best bets to prevent or treat gum disease.