Gum Health and Heart Disease: The Link Between Periodontitis and Your Health

If you are like most people, you don’t give a whole lot of thought to your gums. After all, teeth steal the show, right? The truth is, though, that ignoring your gums could be something you come to regret. Researchers have found a distinct link between gum health and heart disease as well as other conditions. And the news isn’t good.

The Science Behind the Claims

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an estimated 46% of adults over 30 have some form of gum disease. In about 9% their gum disease is considered to be severe. The National Institute of dental and Craniofacial Research, under the US Department of Health and Human Services, published a report Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General that showed how certain medical conditions like HIV and organ transplants, as well as certain medications like steroids could put those people at a higher risk for oral health issues.

Another study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, Oral Health Needs Among Adults in the United States with Chronic Diseases, showed that chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, stroke, obesity, and other conditions could also increase a person’s risk for oral health issues.

Recent studies, like Oral Health and Coronary Heart Disease, published on BioMed Central in 2016, shows that the link between gum health and heart disease does not go one way, but that poor oral health can actually increase a person’s risk for heart disease. A study in China found a potential link between poor oral health and dementia/Alzheimer’s.

Gum Disease: How Bad is Bad?

No one just wakes up one day and has serious gum disease. It is a gradual process that begins with gingivitis and progresses to periodontitis over time. In other words, the gums become inflamed, red, and sometimes sore. They may bleed easily. This is gingivitis and the effects can be reversed. Flossing and brushing daily and getting regular dental cleanings and check ups can remedy the condition with no lasting effects – as long as it is caught early and addressed immediately.

Once gingivitis advances to periodontitis, it gets a lot more complicated. This advanced stage of gum disease is very serious and can cause permanent damage to the gums, teeth, and even bone and ligaments in the mouth. At the beginning, the gums start to pull away from the teeth. Small pockets form in these voids and become a haven for harmful bacteria. The area around the tooth breaks down, causing it to loosen and eventually fall our or require extraction if not treated.

The Gum’s Role in Your Overall Health

Gum disease, especially at its advanced stages, becomes a doorway for inflammation to enter and spread through the entire body. It is infection in the mouth and it can lead to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and stroke. In pregnant women, periodontitis can cause low birth weight, pre-term labor, and premature births. Trying to ignore gum disease, hoping that it will go away on its own is seriously risking your health.

Even mild gum disease can cause pain when you brush your teeth, drink, or chew your food, causing you to avoid doing these things. The teeth are an important part of your digestive system, so when you have missing teeth, that part of it cannot function as it should. You can’t chew as effectively and that an impact the rest of your digestion, including how your body absorbs the nutrients from your food. So not only do you have infection and inflammation inside your body, you also have the secondary issue of a compromised digestive system and nutrient deficiencies.

Symptoms of Gum Disease

When most people hear “inflammation,” they think of pain. However, there is usually no pain associated with the early stages of gingivitis. Instead of looking for pain as a disease marker, look for the other, more subtle signs and see your dentist regularly.

Signs and symptoms of gum disease include:

  • Red or swollen gums
  • Chronic halitosis (bad breath)
  • Painful chewing (occasional)
  • Tender gums
  • Areas of the gums that look like they are pulling away from the teeth
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Gums that bleed easily
  • Loose teeth

Treatment for Gum Disease

The treatment for gum disease is determined by advanced it is. The overarching goal, regardless of the stage, is to reduce inflammation, get control of the infection, and prevent any more damage from occurring. Even milder cases should be seen by a dentist. Some forms of oral cancer can have symptoms that closely resemble gum disease.

Milder cases of gum disease can be treated with a special deep cleaning method known as scaling and root planning. It removes the plaque that is causing the inflammation and infection from the tooth root and around the gum line.

Antibiotics may sometimes be given, or antimicrobial medication. These work on the gum pockets, reducing their size while addressing the infection. They may be administered via pills, mouth rinse, gel, or the dentist may place small, round particles in the pockets to heal them directly.

In very advanced gum disease, or if the gums do not respond to the less aggressive treatment, your dentist may elect to perform surgery to correct the problem. Flap surgery allows the dentist to go below the gum tissue to clean. The gums are cut, moved aside, then sutured back in place after the procedure is finished. Bone or gum graft surgery is more complex and treats very advanced cases of periodontitis. Bone or tissue from another area in your mouth are grafted into the damaged area of the jaw or gums.

6 Steps to Better Oral Health

The best way to treat gum disease is to be proactive and get good, healthy habits so that you can prevent it. Here are our 6 steps to better oral health:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day and after meals
  • Floss at least once a day
  • Get regular dental check ups
  • Get regular dental cleanings as recommended by your doctor
  • Inspect your gums each time you brush and if you see a problem, call your dentist
  • Maintain a healthy, fresh diet and stay hydrated

At Weaver, Reckner & Reinhart, we take your health very seriously and understand that a healthy mouth means a healthy body. If you have noticed any signs of gum disease, please make an appointment to get it checked out as soon as possible. We offer full service dental care, so whether you need a root canal, a cleaning, or just about anything else in between, we’re here for you.  Call our office today for a healthier, happier smile.


April Is Oral Cancer Awareness Month

April 8th-15th marks Oral Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week, a time dedicated to raising awareness of cancer of the mouth that affects about 50,000 people in the United States every year. This is a good time to gain a better understanding of this disease, what it looks like, and how it can be prevented or caught early with an oral cancer screening.

At Weaver, Reckner & Reinhart Dental Associates, “an oral cancer screening is a quick and painless part of your ordinary dental examination,” says Dr. John Reckner, F.A.G.D. “Although we perform cancer screenings all year long, in April we support, a national foundation that helps patients and their families undergoing treatment for oral cancer.”

If you ever have any suspicious bumps or sores that do not go away after two weeks, it’s time to get it checked out. Early detection is possible in many cases of oral cancer and enables the cancer to be removed before it has a chance to spread throughout the body. Here is what you should know about this type of cancer and how you can protect yourself and your loved ones.

What Is Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer is a broad term that refers to any cancer that begins around the mouth. This type of cancer can affect:

  • Lips
  • Tongue
  • Cheeks
  • Soft and hard palate of the mouth
  • Floor of the mouth
  • Throat
  • Sinuses

What Are the Warning Signs and Symptoms?

Depending on where the cancer develops, you may notice any of these warning signs.

  • Sore throat or feeling like something is stuck at the back of your throat. This can be a sign of tongue cancer or throat cancer.
  • Hoarseness or changes in your voice
  • Difficulty swallowing, chewing, or moving your jaw or tongue can indicate tongue cancer.
  • A persistent sore around your face, mouth, or neck that has not healed after 2 weeks.
  • Numbness, tenderness, or loss of sensation around the mouth, face, or neck.
  • Unexplained oral bleeding.
  • Patches in the mouth that may be white, red, or a combination.
  • Bumps, swollen areas, lumps, or rough areas inside the mouth or on the gums or lips.

Are You At Risk of Mouth Cancer?

There are two main factors that greatly increase your risk of oral and throat cancer: tobacco and alcohol use. However, even if you do not smoke or drink, you can still develop oral cancer. These are the factors that can increase your risk of developing oral cancer:

  • Tobacco use
  • Alcohol use
  • HPV virus infection
  • Prolonged sun exposure increases the risk of cancer of the lip
  • Poor oral hygiene, especially when combined with tobacco and alcohol
  • Poor diet/nutrition

How Can Cancer of the Mouth Be Prevented?

The most important thing you can do to reduce our risk is quitting all tobacco products. Using tobacco raises your risk of oral and throat cancer, but quitting can dramatically lower this risk, even if you have used tobacco for years!

It’s important to conduct oral self exams every month. Use a mirror and a bright left to check your gums, the insides of your lips, the lining of your cheeks, the back of your gums, and the roof and floor of your mouth. Check for suspicious patches, sores, inflammation, or other changes. If you notice anything that doesn’t look right, call your dentist immediately, even if you are not experiencing pain.

Regular dental exams are also crucial in the prevention and detection of cancer of the mouth. Protecting your oral health reduces a major risk factor for cancer. It also helps your dentist spot any changes in your mouth before they become serious and life-threatening.

Early Detection Saves Lives!

Among people who are newly diagnosed with mouth cancer, 40% do not live past five years and many are left with severe disfigurement and difficulty speaking and eating. The death rate for cancers of the mouth remain so high because many of these cancers are not found until they have become advanced.

When oral and throat cancer is detected early, there is a much higher risk of surviving without serious long-term effects. Many of these cancers can be found early when they are still small with a routine screening exam by a dentist. Early detection saves lives and remains the best way to reduce disfigurement.

Cancer of the mouth can affect anyone, regardless of age and smoking or drinking habits. Schedule an appointment with Weaver, Reckner & Reinhart Dental Associates today to get your oral cancer screening and protect your health.