When we think of oral health, our focus tends to be on teeth. However, gum health is an integral part of dental and oral health and can also play a significant role in the overall health of your body.
Periodontal disease, or gum disease, affects most people at some stage in their life. This is a condition whereby the gums become inflamed due to a build up of plaque around the teeth, which can lead to loss of the supporting bone, and may ultimately result in teeth needing to be taken out. The two stages of gum disease are gingivitis and periodontitis.
Why gum health matters
No matter how great the condition of your teeth, they require healthy gums to support them. Your gums serve as a seal around your teeth, protecting sensitive tissues underneath.
When bacteria (which are contained in plaque) are allowed to accumulate on gums, they become inflamed and can swell, which provides even more places for plaque to hide. This continual irritation of gum tissues can lead to gum recession, bone loss and loose teeth.
But it’s not just your teeth that are affected by gum health. Here are some other ways gum health can impact your overall wellbeing.
"Your gums serve as a seal around your teeth, protecting sensitive tissues underneath."
Healthy gums may help lower heart disease
One of the first reports concerning poor oral health (including periodontal or gum disease) as a predictor of heart disease was in 1989. Over the past two decades many observational studies in humans have consistently demonstrated a relationship between periodontal disease and heart disease.
Importantly, some studies have shown that when poor oral health and gums are treated in individuals with cardiovascular disease, the patients’ overall health can improve.
Healthy gums may help boost your memory
According to a report in The Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, researchers have noticed a link between performance on memory tests and gum health. Study participants with gingivitis – marked by swollen, sensitive gums – consistently performed poorly in memory tests when compared to those with healthy gums.
Healthy gums and overall health
Not only is cardiovascular disease associated with periodontal disease, but a number of other systemic conditions are also linked, including diabetes, adverse pregnancy outcomes, rheumatoid arthritis, lung disease and kidney disease.
Diabetes in particular has a strong link to oral health and can worsen a gum condition. Conversely, untreated gum disease can adversely affect diabetic control.
Apart from increasing the risk of tooth loss, gum disease can also adversely affect speech, nutrition, self-esteem and quality of life.
"Diabetes has a strong link to oral health. Untreated gum disease can adversely affect diabetic control."
Can gum disease be genetic?
It is now believed that there is a strong genetic component that determines an individual’s oral health. It is now recognised in particular that there is more to gum disease than just simple plaque accumulation around teeth.
How to prevent gum disease
- Brush your teeth effectively and thoroughly twice a day. Ask your dentist for advice if you are unsure of the best brushing techniques.
- Use dental floss to clean in between your teeth.
- Avoid smoking.
- Have regular dental check-ups, especially if you are pregnant or have diabetes, as these conditions increase your risk of gum disease
See your dentist or oral health professional if you have swollen or bleeding gums. Getting treated early can help save teeth that are at risk from gum disease and other conditions.
Some medications can cause problems with the gums. In particular some medications used for managing epilepsy and high blood pressure can cause enlargement of the gums, which hinders good cleaning and thus leads to ongoing periodontal problems. If this becomes advanced then surgical removal of the enlarged gums may become necessary.
Follow the Oral Health Advisory Panel on twitter @OHAPanel to stay up to date with practical advice on good oral health habits.