The Unanticipated Consequences Of Gum Disease

img AD Ratings imgJuly 3, 2019

The latest research suggests that gum disease, a common and discomforting disease, is so much more than just that. Mounting evidence points to the many unrelated health problems caused by gum disease bacteria. Maintaining your oral health is, therefore, not only vital for your oral health but also general health.

If you don’t brush your teeth properly, a sticky substance containing bacteria—plaque—will build up on your teeth. The bacteria in the plaque will irritate your gums, which may swell, become sore, or get infected, leading to gingivitis or gum disease, which may cause other severe medical conditions in the body.

Typically, maintaining proper dental hygiene will keep gum disease at bay. In instances of neglect, however, gum disease will develop into periodontitis, which can significantly debilitate the supporting dental structures of your teeth.

Gum disease or periodontal disease is predominant, especially in the US. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that almost half the number of adults in the US are diagnosed with some degree of gum disease.

Periodontal disease is reasonably well-understood. New research is showing how it can cause other diseases, including Alzheimer’s, cancer, and respiratory ailments. Read on to know how such diseases have a link with gum disease.

The Brain And Gums

We usually don’t associate dental problems and neurological symptoms with each other even though spatially, the gums, and the brain are nearby. Surprisingly though, a few studies link periodontal disease, tooth loss, and loss of cognitive function credibly.

A study that analyzed the cognitive behavior of 587 men over 32 years found that the presence of caries, age, and loss of cognitive function was directly proportional. In the words of the authors of the study, “Risk of cognitive decline in older men increases as more teeth are lost. Periodontal disease and caries, major reasons for tooth loss, are related to cognitive decline,” reported Medical News Today.

Another study found a link between periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s by illustrating the increase in detection of a neurological hallmark beta-amyloid in the brain and the increase in dental plaque. An experiment also found Porphyromonas gingivalis bacteria, which is generally found in periodontitis patients, in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

A new study analyzed the results of experiment. It observed how the P. gingivalis bacteria lead to an increase in the production of Alzheimer’s causing beta-amyloid in the brain.

The researches primarily observed the gingipain enzyme produced by the P. gingivalis bacteria and found that this proteinase was toxic to the tau protein, which caused tau tangles that leads to the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease.

Moreover, there’s a shift in perception of Alzheimer’s. Many researchers now believe that the beta-amyloid marker is produced as a response to a pathogen. This may lead to newer medication that targets pathogens explicitly like the gingipain enzyme secreting P. gingivalis. In fact, a gingipain inhibitor has been designed to help stop the neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s patients. The medicine is awaiting human trials.

This inhibitor is expected to, “slow or prevent further neurodegeneration and accumulation of pathology in [Alzheimer’s disease] patients,” as per the study.

The Heart And Gums

There’s a palpable link between heart disease and gum disease as many patients of cardiovascular ailments also seem to suffer from gum disease.

We already know that people who smoke a lot and drink copious amounts of alcohol regularly are more likely to develop cardiovascular as well as oral diseases. There are many other shared and independent risk factors that show how the two unlikely diseases are interlinked.

A popular theory among the research community is inflammation. Inflammation is caused by the body’s protective mechanism when irritants or pathogens attack it. If inflammation persists for an extended period, it damages tissues and organs instead of protecting them. As gingivitis bacteria cause inflammation, it is possible that it could also kick-start a chain reaction that causes inflammation in the cardiovascular system.

Another popular theory is bacteria. Bacteria can cause inflammation and damage any organ, including the heart, by entering the bloodstream. In fact, researchers have found many bacterial strains, most significantly P. gingivalis, in the coronary artery. Based on that evidence, the researchers inferred that bacteria could enter the blood supply through the gums and cause inflammation and damage to the heart.

Cancer Risk And Gum Disease

Cancer and gum disease seem entirely unrelated, but recent evidence shows otherwise. A 2008 study, which analyzed tooth loss and cancer in 48,375 men, found that cancer and gum disease have a minute connection. The researchers of the study noted, “Periodontal disease was associated with a small, but significant, increase in overall cancer risk,” reported Medical News Today.

A more recent study analyzed more than 68,000 adults and found a significant link between gum disease and pancreatic cancer. In a paper published in Nature, the researchers state that they found the Treponema denticola bacterial enzyme in certain gastrointestinal tumors. Treponema denticola bacteria secrete the T. denticola chymotrypsin-like proteinase enzyme, which penetrates the protective gum tissue, thereby causing gum disease. According to the researchers of the study, the T. denticola proteinase also activated other cancer cell growth- accelerant enzymes after penetrating healthy tissue.

Erectile Dysfunction And Gum Disease

Erectile Dysfunction (ED) affects an estimated 50 percent of the male population over forty. It’s a condition that has physiological as well as psychological causes.

Smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol, hypertension, and stress is known to cause ED. Surprisingly; periodontal disease can also enhance the risk of developing erectile dysfunction.

A 2016 literature review identified a link between erectile dysfunction and chronic periodontitis going as far as suggesting, “Physicians should refer patients with [erectile dysfunction] to oral healthcare providers for a comprehensive oral evaluation and treatment,” reported Medical News Today.

Erectile dysfunction and gum disease share common risk factors such as smoking, drinking, and diabetes. So it is not currently possible to determine whether gum disease is an independent risk factor for men developing ED.

Sexual dysfunction and gum health, however, have some connection. Inflammation caused by periodontal disease-causing bacteria can quickly spread across the body via the bloodstream.

Erectile dysfunction is mainly caused by endothelial dysfunction: when the interior surface of blood vessels and lymphatic vessels don’t relax. This causes the smooth muscles lining the walls of blood vessels to lose control over vascular function, which prevents regular vasodilation in the penis. This vasodilation is what sustains an erection. The pro-inflammatory state caused by periodontal disease-causing bacteria leads to a higher incidence of endothelial dysfunction, which enhances the risk of developing erectile dysfunction.

However, the authors of the 2016 literature review mentioned stated that more large-scale studies would be required to confirm the link between erectile dysfunction and periodontal disease conclusively.

 The Lungs and Gums

Lungs and the mouth are directly linked to each other via the respiratory system. So, it’s not surprising that gum disease can lead to lung disease.

A 2019 study analyzed the medical records of 1,380 men and found that those who suffered from chronic periodontitis also experienced a reduction in normal respiratory function. The link was present after controlling factors such as smoking.

Inflammation could connect the two. Naturally, if the trachea and the bronchial tubes in the lungs are inflamed, the air you breathe will pass through narrower pathways, which would automatically restrict the required airflow into your respiratory system.

Simultaneously, inflammation-causing oral bacteria will be breathed into the lungs. Infection-causing bacteria tend to cause infection anywhere, so they could definitely trigger lung infection that directly leads to inflammation.

In fact, a recent meta-analysis investigating the potential links between gum disease and lung cancer found that “patients with oral diseases are at increased risk of developing lung cancer,” reported Medical News Today.

The paper outlined a few possibilities that explore how gum disease increases the risk of developing lung cancer. One explanation is the presence of the P. gingivalis bacteria in an infected mouth, which, when breathed into the lungs, leads to the secretion of enzymes. The enzymes tend to seep into healthy lung tissue and cause degradation of the healthy cellular structure. As the healthy tissue is being attacked, inflammation will immediately develop in the affected region. The inflammation will enable more pathogens to colonize the formerly healthy lung tissue. If lung inflammation persists for an extended period, it will damage more tissues and spark changes in the cellular structure. All of these factors lead to the combined effect of a heightened risk of a person developing lung cancer.

Don’t Take Consequences of Gum Disease Lightly

We have listed many unexpected dangers you may be susceptible, if you have gum disease. The conditions listed are more likely to occur if you suffer from gum disease. You can fret about all these unanticipated consequences, or you can focus on the positive takeaway, which is to maintain good oral hygiene maintenance practices.

The key message is: if you maintain the required dental hygiene, you not only reduce the risk of developing periodontal diseases but also reduce the risk of developing other serious health conditions such as Alzheimer’s, erectile dysfunction, pancreatic or lung cancer, or cardiovascular infections and diseases.

To conclude, using the words of the lung cancer researchers, “periodontal disease is a preventable and treatable disease,” and if we treat the earliest symptoms of oral disease properly, we can prevent a myriad of infections and conditions from taking root in our bodies.

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