HED: ICYMI: Gum Disease Isn’t Just About Your Gums
So much of the cultural conversation around teeth revolves around the superficial, with the ideal smile being white, straight, and not too gummy. But in our quest to achieve that Hollywood-ready grin, many of us neglect the most critical component of oral health — the gums.
Scientific research has uncovered so many connections between different body systems and functions. You may have heard of the long-established blood-brain barrier and theorized mind-body connection. In the last few decades, the medical and dental community have been avidly exploring the perio-systemic link — “perio” referring to the gums around the teeth and “systemic” referring to health overall. Link those two together and you’ve got a compelling case for putting your gums first, for a change.
The crux of the the perio-systemic link is this: Periodontitis may originate in your gums, but it can affect your entire body. Let’s explore how. (Don’t worry, you won’t need a dental license to follow along.)
You might recall from our previous post that periodontitis is a double whammy of inflammation and aggressive, antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It starts with inflamed gums that pull away from the teeth, allowing the formation of periodontal pockets that end up teeming with bacteria that’s so strong that it forms its own ecosystem called a biofilm. Research has found that this biofilm doesn’t just stay localized in the mouth. It can also establish itself in distant parts of the body, like the coronary arteries and joints. So think of biofilm as the bedbugs of oral health: nasty, hard to get rid of, and fond of travel.
Your immune system produces an acute inflammatory response to defend itself against bacteria, trauma, and toxins. But individual genetic factors can exacerbate this response and lead to chronic inflammation, which puts your immune system into overdrive. All that unchecked white cell activity can make you more prone to non-infectious diseases and may accelerate cell aging.
Inflammation is a huge topic in medical research right now, because it’s widely believed to be the root of all preventable disease. That’s what the majority of the human population is now living with and dying from as medicine advances and longevity increases.
Periodontitis is most strongly associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes, but it’s also been linked to stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and kidney disease.Of course, it’s important to remember the difference between causation and correlation. No research can prove that periodontitis absolutely will cause certain diseases. Instead, there’s a correlation, a demonstrated mutual relationship, between periodontitis and other diseases.
“It’s about working against each other,” says Waverly Clinical Director Dr. Donald Clem. “Diabetes makes periodontitis harder to control, and periodontitis makes diabetes harder to control.”
In the case of cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death worldwide, it’s interesting to note that 40% of people who experience a heart attack or other cardiac event don’t have the common risk factors like smoking, high cholesterol, obesity, or family history. We also know that the health of coronary arteries isn’t just linked to diet, exercise, and not smoking, but also to the body’s level of inflammatory mediators.
So what should you do with all this information about the perio-systemic link?
- Don’t be scared — be proactive. And know that being proactive about your gum health is being proactive about your systemic health. (Read that again slowly, if you’re confused. It happens.)
- Share big medical news (pregnancy, diagnoses, illness, etc.) with your dentist and big dental news (oral surgery, diagnoses, pain, etc.) with your doctor, especially if you know you have a family history of certain systemic diseases.
- If you already maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine, great! Now start approaching your tooth and gum health with the same mindset and level of commitment. (You don’t even have to go to the gym or eat the latest gross superfood to practice good oral care. Score!)
Waverly’s happy to be your trainer, spotter, and cheerleader with in-studio oral care experiences and at-home Wave Kits customized for your specific stage of oral wellness. In addition to the proprietary Brush, Floss, and Rinse products, each Wave Kit includes a non-invasive Fortify treatment that specifically targets the bacteria that causes gingivitis and periodontal disease.
Let’s go deep, together, for a healthy smile — and body — on the surface and far below.