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The health risks of gum disease

Netdoctor (UK) logo Netdoctor (UK) 09/11/2018 Claire Chamberlain

a man wearing a hat: Gum disease comes with several health concerns, including increasing women’s risk of breast cancer by up to three times. Here's everything you need to know about maintaining health gums. © Getty Images Gum disease comes with several health concerns, including increasing women’s risk of breast cancer by up to three times. Here's everything you need to know about maintaining health gums. You might think you’re pretty savvy when it comes to looking after your health. Don’t smoke? Check. Eat your Five-a-day? Check again. Get the recommended 150 minutes of weekly exercise? You’re nailing this! Keep up to date with dental appointments? Er…

Most of us don’t associate dental health with our overall wellbeing. Yet numerous recent studies show that maintaining good oral hygiene could be more important to our health than simply ensuring we have a picture-perfect smile.

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‘Increasingly, studies have suggested that gum disease can be extremely damaging to your overall health, and oral health professionals are accepting that gum disease has a huge impact on the health of our whole body,’ reveals Dr Harold Katz, dentist, bacteriologist and founder of The Breath Company.

‘Many studies have shown that gum disease may be as significant as smoking or high cholesterol when it comes to other diseases, such as heart disease.’

gum disease © Getty Images gum disease

Gum health and physical disease

And it doesn’t stop there. ‘Gum disease carries a higher risk of causing a stroke than diabetes, and has also been linked to the likelihood of heart disease, dementia, cancer and premature birth,’ continues Dr Katz.

In one study, carried out at the University of Illinois in Chicago, researchers found a strong link between periodontal (gum) disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Gallery: 20 mistakes you’re making every time you brush your teeth (Espresso)

‘This is the first study to show that exposure to the periodontal bacteria results in the formation of senile plaques that accelerate the development of neuropathology found in Alzheimer's patients,’ says Dr Keiko Watanabe, professor of periodontics at the UIC College of Dentistry and corresponding author on the study.

And according to Dr Katz, researchers from the University of Santa Maria in Brazil suggest that gum disease increases women’s risk of breast cancer by up to three times.

How can gum disease impact your health?

But the big question on everyone’s lips is: how? ‘Swollen and bleeding gums allow bacteria and toxins to infiltrate your bloodstream and travel to your brain and heart, possibly causing a stroke, heart attack or other disease,’ explains Dr Katz.

Worryingly, gum disease is extremely common in the UK, affecting three out of four adults over the age of 35. ‘Incidences of gum disease increase with age, with 50 per cent of adults 30 years or older and 70 per cent of adults 65 years or older suffering,’ says Dr Katz.

gum disease © Getty Images gum disease

Preventing gum disease

But it’s not all doom and gloom. ‘The good news is that if gum disease isn’t in advanced stages, then good oral hygiene habits can help to reverse it, so it’s worth taking some very simple steps to keep your gums healthy and prevent the onset of gum disease,’ says Dr Katz.

Here are four ways to help prevent gum disease, to help maintain good overall wellbeing:

✔️ Regular check-ups: It’s of vital importance to keep up to date with your dental appointments!

‘Dentists are the very best source of advice,’ says Dr Katz. ‘They will be able to check for more subtle signs of gum disease and discuss any treatment plan with you, as well as offering advice on how to prevent gum disease returning.’

Worryingly, gum disease is extremely common in the UK, affecting three out of four adults over the age of 35. © Getty Worryingly, gum disease is extremely common in the UK, affecting three out of four adults over the age of 35.

✔️ Good oral hygiene: OK, you’ve been brushing your teeth since you were a child… but are you doing it right?

‘Many people completely forget about their gums and just concentrate on the teeth themselves,’ reveals Dr Katz. ‘This is obviously important to prevent cavities, but you should also clean along the gum line (where your teeth meet your gums) at least twice a day, to help prevent gum disease. Hard or stiff bristles are more likely to injure your gums, so be sure to use a good-quality toothbrush with soft to medium bristles, and replace your brush every three months or so.'

'Try to keep the toothpaste in contact with the gums for as long as possible, avoid rinsing with water, and don’t forget to clean in-between your teeth with interdental brushes or floss,' adds Dr Katz. 'In addition, regular and specific application of alcohol-free mouth rinses will help calm the gum area and work to both eliminate germs associated with gum disease and reduce the formation of biofilm, which leads to plaque and tartar build-up.’

© Getty

✔️ Diet and lifestyle habits: It goes without saying that limiting sugary foods and drinks, cutting back on alcohol and quitting smoking will all contribute to better gum health.

‘Smoking in particular dries out the mouth and can lead to gum disease, as a result of bacteria and toxins causing plaque to form in the mouth,’ says Dr Katz.

In addition, ensure your diet is full of fresh fruit and veg, and snack on apples, celery and carrots throughout the day.

‘These items work to “brush” the teeth, as they contain a high level of good starch that rinses away dental plaque, and are rich in vitamins and nutrients that will keep gums healthy,’ says Dr Katz. ‘Several studies have also found that folic acid plays a major role in preserving gum tissues, preventing gingivitis and periodontal disease, so try upping the amount of leafy vegetables you consume.’

✔️ Staying hydrated: Finally, making sure you drink enough water is not just good for your overall mental and physical wellbeing, it’s important for your gums, too.

‘Dehydration leads to dry mouth and bad breath bacteria forming, which can both contribute to the onset of gum disease,’ warns Dr Katz.

So drink the recommended six to eight glasses of water a day – your body (and your smile) will thank you!

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