The two words you never want to hear from your dentist’s lips:
Gum disease symptoms include:
- Swollen or inflamed gums
- Bleeding gums
- Sensitive teeth
- Wobbly teeth
- Bad breath
At your dental appointment, you agree to brushing and flossing more thoroughly, and using the mouthwash your dentist recommends. That’s that, right?
But while gum disease is treatable when caught early, it can highlight other risks to your health beyond the realm your mouth. Yes – gum disease and the bacteria that causes it may be an important marker for several diseases, including cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s Powerful stuff.
What Causes Gum Disease?
Even when your mouth is healthy, your gums and teeth are lined with a biofilm of bacteria. While it may sound alarming, there are several beneficial aspects to hosting bacteria in your mouth – this occurrence is nicknamed the mouth microbiome, after your gut microbiome, which contains many of the same strains of bacteria as your mouth.
The film of bacteria in your mouth operates in a similar manner to the bacteria in your gut as it:
- Eats particles of food, preventing a build up of decaying food and curbing bad smells
- Maintains the mucosal barrier which blocks outside pathogens
- Intercepts and neutralizes some environmental toxins
So you and your mouth microbiome normally live in a state of harmony. Unfortunately, this careful balance can be disrupted by several factors, leading to gingivitis (gum disease) – and when this happens, it can have serious consequences.
Risk factors for gum disease include:
- Poor oral hygiene
- A diet high in sugar
- Low saliva production
- Crooked teeth, or poor fitting oral appliances
Gingivitis occurs when a bacterial infection takes hold in your gums, causing inflammation. A build-up of plaque is often a precursor – a mix of bacteria, saliva, and food debris caused by not brushing correctly. If left untreated, it can progress into periodontitis (periodontal disease), causing your gums begin to pull away from your teeth. The new gaps in your gums provide the bad bacteria with more of an opportunity to bed down and cause further damage and infection. The infection may lead to an increase of inflammation in the area, eventually contributing to systemic inflammation.
What Health Problems Can Gum Disease Cause?
Gum disease alone only causes discomfort and bleeding in your mouth, but if you allow it to progress into periodontal disease, it has the potential to make you ill – and lead into something more serious. Even minor bleeding is a sign of something awry and signals the presence of inflammation.
Inflammation occurs when your immune system is attempting to fight off an infection. Inflammation is the way your body signals to your immune system that it’s not finished yet – more work needs to be done to remove the threat! The increased blood flow to the area sends additional white blood cells to the afflicted region to neutralize the problem and repair your tissues.
Unfortunately, if your body fails to neutralize the threat, this process of inflammation continues, and your body remains on high alert – with life-changing consequences. In this case, long term or untreated inflammation becomes systemic, affecting the whole of your body, and causing your overwhelmed immune system to fight healthy tissues. Untreated periodontitis, and the bacteria that contributes to it, can contribute to complications down the line, and further contribute to systemic inflammation caused by a pre-existing airway sleep disorder.
Is There a Link Between Periodontitis and Cardiovascular Disease?
There are several diseases linked to periodontal disease, due to inflammation. When untreated, periodontitis provokes a system-wide inflammatory response, this results in your liver secreting more C-reactive protein (CRP), a known inflammatory marker linked with cardiovascular disease (more specifically atherosclerosis), type 2 diabetes, and the risk of stroke.
Bradley F. Bale, MD and Amy Doneen, DNP, ARNP are a fantastic team responsible for some groundbreaking work in identifying the root causes and risks of cardiovascular disease. Most recently, they have discovered five types of oral bacteria that are associated with a high risk of developing atherosclerosis, through the development of periodontal disease.
There are real positives to be taken from this study. For one, dentists find themselves at the forefront of diagnosis, as gum inflammation is an obvious indicator, along with a small airway, that there may be an underlying bi-directional condition that your doctor may need to look into. But to be able to use the presence of these bacteria to predict cardiovascular disease is a promising development, and it verifies the importance of joined-up healthcare – where your body as a whole is taken into account.
Predicting Cardiovascular Disease, Stroke and Diabetes with Oral DNA Testing
Understanding how important it is to find early markers of cardiovascular disease, at the Gelb Center, we’ve partnered up with OraVital to offer you oral DNA testing. If you want to gain understanding of your health, and take action now to prevent issues later on, this simple test puts you back in control.
We take swabs of your tongue, gums, and throat, to take samples of your mouth microbiome. The OraVital lab checks your sample for the five high-risk pathogens, along with other substances like candida, white blood cells, and parasites, and issues a detailed report to us. Testing for bacteria and other pathogens is vital – both to identify current health issues, and flag up any potential diseases down the line. Your mouth is the gateway to your body, and it can lead to greater understanding of your overall health.
If you’re concerned about gum disease or cardiovascular disease risks, fill out our contact form, or call to make an appointment with Dr. Gelb on (212) 752-1662 to book your OraVital test. To learn more about Dr. Gelb’s AirwayCentric® approach, pick up a copy of GASP!: Airway Health – The Hidden Path To Wellness by Dr. Michael Gelb and Dr. Howard Hindin.