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How to Take Better Care Of Your Gums

Keeping your gums healthy isn’t just a key to your dental health—research shows that gum health is also connected to a slew of other health outcomes, from memory loss to diabetes.

“Gum disease not only affects the integrity of your oral health and smile, but it can also affect your overall health,” says Dr. Angela Evanson, a dentist based in Colorado. “Taking care of your gums is important because it can connect to health issues you could be experiencing in your day-to-day life.”

Aside from warding off gum disease, here are five additional reasons to care for your gums through regular brushing, flossing and dental cleanings.

Protecting your cardiovascular health

Science has yet to fully explain the link between oral and cardiovascular health, but research suggests that oral bacteria may lead to inflammation and infections that can precede cardiovascular events. Dentists say the link between gum health and cardiovascular health is reason enough to make a concerted effort to care for your gums.

For instance, people who suffer from gum disease are two to three times more likely to have a heart attack, stroke or another type of major heart problem. 

Reducing the impact of diabetes

People with diabetes need to follow a “strict at-home dental hygiene routine” and visit the dentist at least twice a year, Evanson says: “Those who are diabetic are more at risk for developing gum and oral health issues.”

The research agrees: Untreated periodontal disease in diabetics can cause blood sugar levels to rise. The American Dental Association reports that treating gum disease in diabetic patients can improve blood sugar control, which slows down the progression of diabetes. 

Improving your memory

In 2020, the National Institute on Aging released a study that found a link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s among older adults.

Recent clinical trials have also found a connection between P. gingivalis — a bacteria that commonly causes gum disease — and Alzheimer’s. While studies so far don’t reveal a causal link between gum disease and dementia, they do demonstrate a correlation, which could provide a compelling reason to keep your gums healthy. 

Maintaining joint health

“An infection of the gums can set off your immune system and cause an autoimmune response,” Evanson says. Research shows that the same bacteria that causes certain types of gum infections also causes the inflammatory autoimmune response found in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients. 

How exactly does gum bacteria trigger RA? It’s possible that oral bacteria leaves the mouth through damaged gum tissue, enters the bloodstream and harms other parts of the body, such as the joints, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis also tend to have higher rates of periodontal disease than other children.

While more research is needed to understand the link between joint and gum health, the connection provides another reason to maintain healthy gums. By keeping your mouth as free of bacteria as possible, you may be able to reduce your risk of RA or minimize pain and progression if you already have RA. 

Reducing risk of cancer

Research doesn’t show that gum disease causes cancer, but several studies have revealed a link between gum disease and some cancers. Harvard scientists found that people with a history of gum disease were 43% more likely to be diagnosed with esophageal cancer and 52% more likely to suffer from stomach cancer than people who did not have gum disease. 

Similarly, men with gum disease are more likely to be diagnosed with three types of cancer — kidney, pancreatic and blood cancers—than those with healthy gums. Another study found that gum disease puts postmenopausal women at greater risk for some cancers.

As research into the connection between oral health and cancer continues, the research so far suggests that maintaining a healthy mouth can be important in promoting overall health. And when it comes to gum health, resist the urge to skip flossing or avoid the dentist—caring for your gums can help in caring for your whole body. “The health of our teeth and gums can serve as a window to our overall health,” Evanson says.

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