You might not realise it, but there is a link between your teeth and the rest of your body, and having bad teeth can significantly impact on your overall health. Gum disease is associated with heart disease, diabetes, and an increased risk of stroke. The good news is that by taking care of your teeth, you can improve your health – and your smile.
What is gum disease (periodontitis)?
Gum disease is an infection of the soft tissue that supports your teeth. It usually starts as gingivitis – an inflammation of the gums, that causes bad breath and bleeding when you brush. This can eventually lead to periodontitis, a more severe infection, which affects the tissue that holds the tooth in place, the ligaments, and even the bone.
Problems with the gums are usually a result of plaque – a sticky, soft film that contains bacteria. Too much bacteria in your mouth can cause sore, swollen, and bleeding gums.
How gum disease affects your body
It’s thought that inflammation in the gums can slowly damage blood vessels in the heart and brain over a long period of time.
As a result, poor oral health has been linked to an increased risk of:
- Heart disease
According to the British Dental Health Foundation, few people realise that there is a link between these health issues and their teeth and gums. In fact, only 1 in 6 people were aware that having gum disease could put you at risk of suffering a stroke or diabetes, and only a third of people knew there was a connection with heart disease¹.
Gum disease and diabetes
Inflammation in the mouth is connected to diabetes and the body’s ability to control its blood sugar levels. Some experts think that inflammation stops the body from being able to use insulin properly – the hormone used to convert sugar into energy.
In turn, diabetes is a risk factor for gum disease, because high blood sugar levels can weaken the immune system. This limits the body’s defence against infection, including those that occur in the mouth, like periodontal disease.
Gum disease and heart disease
The link between gum disease and cardiovascular diseases (CVD) has long been studied. It’s thought that inflammation of the blood vessels in the mouth could restrict blood flow around the entire body, thereby raising blood pressure.
People with gum disease are two to three times more likely to have a stroke, heart attack or another cardiovascular event, according to some researchers².
Further cementing the link between the two, we also know that gum disease and heart disease share a lot of the same risk factors, including obesity, poor diet, and smoking.
Bad teeth and other conditions
Gum disease in pregnant women is still being researched, but some think that it could be linked to premature birth or low birth weight deliveries. One of the areas under investigation is the impact that infection and inflammation have on fetus development.
Other conditions that may be linked to poor oral health include:
- Lung problems
- Rheumatoid arthritis
According to Colgate, crooked teeth can also cause headaches (due to teeth grinding), joint disorders, and difficulty brushing which can lead to dental cavities.
How to prevent gum disease
The best way to prevent gum disease is to brush your teeth regularly to remove the early build-up of plaque. We recommend that you brush for two minutes, twice every day with a fluoride toothpaste (or a prescription-strength, high fluoride toothpaste if suitable).
You should also floss or use an interdental brush to clean between your teeth.
It’s important to visit your dentist or a dental hygienist regularly – they can check the health of your gums and intervene before small issues become big problems. If you are pregnant, you are entitled to free NHS dental care until 12 months after the birth.
Nicotine in tobacco products can also increase your risk of gum disease. In fact, you’re up to three times more likely to suffer from gum disease if you smoke³. We recommend trying to quit, or cutting back, to improve your overall health.
When to seek help from a dentist
At the first sign of gum disease make an appointment to see your dentist. Left untreated, it can get much worse and may even lead to tooth loss. Symptoms include:
- Red, swollen and sore gums
- Bleeding when brushing and flossing
- Bad breath
- Loose teeth
- An unpleasant taste in the mouth
- A gum abscess (pus under the gum line)
To find your nearest dentist, visit the NHS website.
The key takeaway
Can having bad teeth affect your overall health? The evidence suggests that it does. In fact, gum disease is linked to an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
Regular brushing and check-ups with a dentist are not just important for looking after your teeth and gums – it could also improve your overall health.
Early-stage gum disease is easier to treat than advanced periodontal disease, so if you have swollen gums or notice blood after brushing, speak to your dentist.