Are bleeding gums hurting my health?
You shouldn’t ignore a little pink in the sink after you finish brushing your teeth. It could be a sign of potential dental and overall health issues.
People somehow assume what’s going on in the mouth has nothing to do with the rest of the body and vice versa, but nothing could be further from the truth. Teeth are intimately connected to people and a person’s systemic diseases can present themselves in the mouth. Furthermore, the mouth isn’t a sterile place – there are more than 600 different kinds of bacteria. Inflamed and bleeding gums that accompany periodontal disease present a portal for those bacteria in the mouth to enter the body.
Heart disease, stroke, diabetes and pneumonia are just a few of the health issues associated with the bacteria that cause periodontal diseases.
What are periodontal diseases?
Periodontal diseases are bacterial infections that destroys the gums and supporting tissues anchoring the teeth. Symptoms include:
- Red, swollen and bleeding gums
- Bleeding while brushing and/or flossing
- Receding gums
- Loose or shifting teeth
- Persistent bad breath
- Pus between teeth
What are the types of periodontal disease?
Periodontal diseases are a family of oral infections that affects individuals throughout life. The three most common periodontal diseases include:
- Gingivitis: affects the soft tissue around teeth in children and adults
- Acute periodontitis: affects the gums and supporting bone in children and adolescents
- Chronic periodontitis: affects the gums and supporting bone in adults; it is a major cause of tooth loss and more than 42 million U.S. adults have a severe form of the disease
Why are the bacteria that cause periodontal disease associated with so many diseases?
Emerging research is starting to give us some answers. Although numerous diseases and medications impact the oral cavity, their impact on periodontal tissues may have greater consequences than previously appreciated. Periodontal diseases are associated with a decrease in the number of beneficial bacterial, which leads to an increase in the number of pathogenic bacteria that contributes to the inflammation and destruction of tissues around the teeth. The theory is these pathogenic bacteria and the accompanying inflammation of periodontal diseases enter the bloodstream affecting organs away from the mouth. Published research provides an association between periodontal diseases and some systemic illnesses.
- Heart disease and stroke: Studies have found a moderate relationship between periodontal diseases and atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke, but not a causal relationship.
- Diabetes: Scientific evidence has shown that diabetes has an adverse effect on periodontal health. Researchers are starting to see a bidirectional relationship between periodontal disease and the signs and symptoms of diabetes. In patients studied, there was a significant reduction in HbA1c levels in diabetic patients after periodontal treatment.
- Pneumonia: A 2017 study in a Virginia Veteran’s Administration hospital found regularly brushing patients’ teeth reduced the number of patients who contracted pneumonia while in the hospital by 92 percent. The nursing staff committed to ensuring that patients brushed their teeth at least once every shift. All that brushing cut down the amount of bacteria the patients were breathing in. Further studies are being done, but that’s a huge impact for something so simple and easy to do.
How can you prevent periodontal diseases?
To reduce the risk of periodontal diseases, practice the healthy four:
- Brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste
- Floss once a day
- Eat a healthy diet that limits sugary beverages and snacks
- See your dentist on a regular basis for prevention and treatment of oral disease
Matthew Messina is clinical director of Ohio State Upper Arlington Dentistry at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Outpatient Care facility in Upper Arlington and an assistant professor in the College of Dentistry at The Ohio State University.