Healthy teeth require healthy gums and bone to support them. Periodontal (gum) disease puts all three at risk. But that’s hardly the only reason to stay diligent about healthy eating, good home hygiene, regular dental appointments, and the rest.
Gum disease also raises your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, lung diseases, some cancers, and more. While much research remains to be done before we fully understand this aspect of mouth/body health, new studies are constantly being published that help clarify such oral/systemic links.
For instance, a study published in Nutrients a bit earlier this year explored the roles an inflammatory diet and vitamin D status might play in forging the link between gum disease and cognitive decline.
An “inflammatory diet” is simply one that fuels chronic inflammation – a common denominator between gum disease and the systemic problems it’s been linked to. It’s a diet with lots of sugars, lots of white flour products and other highly processed carbs, and lots of fried foods, but very few vegetables, lean meats, and fibrous foods. It depends heavily on hyper-processed foods, including fast food and prefab meals.
In other words, it’s your standard American diet.
The researchers evaluated a substantial body of data from more than 2000 adults aged 60 or older, including diet quality, D levels, periodontal status, and a battery of cognitive test scores. Those with severe gum disease – periodontitis – did worse on those tests than those with healthier mouths.
Low vitamin D levels and a more inflammatory diet proved to be two factors linking gum disease with cognitive decline.
More recently, research in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring highlighted another aspect of the relationship between cognitive diseases and gum disease.
For this study, 48 older adults with no signs of cognitive decline had bacterial samples taken from below their gums and from their cerebrospinal fluid. Analysis of the samples showed that participants with an imbalance of oral bacteria – too many bad guys and not enough good – also tended to have evidence for amyloid beta in their cerebrospinal fluid.
Amyloid beta is one of the key biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease. Though no association was found for another key biomarker, P-tau, it’s important to note that “amyloid changes are often observed decades before tau pathology or the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are detected,” as one of the study authors explained.
“Our results show the importance of the overall oral microbiome,” added lead author Angela Kamer.
—not only of the role of ‘bad’ bacteria, but also ‘good’ bacteria—in modulating amyloid levels. These findings suggest that multiple oral bacteria are involved in the expression of amyloid lesions.
The good news is that you’re not helpless when it comes to gum disease. Non-surgical treatments such as deep cleanings with dental ozone or LANAP laser therapy have proven very effective, helping reverse the condition. And yes, there is some evidence that gum disease treatment can improve symptoms of linked conditions, including diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure).
Even simply cleaning up your diet – most importantly, ditching the sugars and refined grains – has been found to make a real difference, even without better oral hygiene.
And it should improve your whole body health, as well.