The Missing Links – Obesity, Heart Disease & Gum Disease

The Missing Links – Obesity, Heart Disease & Gum Disease

Many of us worry about our health – whether it’s our weight, overall health or a family predisposition to serious disease. Surprisingly, our dental health is often left out of the bigger picture and we think this needs to change.

New studies have shown that the state of your gums correlates to some of the big-ticket items on Australia’s health agenda, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

This is because your periodontal health (also known as gum health) has wide-ranging links to your overall well-being. Unhealthy gums can act as a local source of infection, where the bacteria from your mouth can enter the bloodstream and work its way through your body, and lead to inflammation of the arteries.

Many of the risk factors that impact your periodontal health, like diet and exercise habits, are common to all these diseases.

Inflammed Arteries & Oral Bacteria

Did you know oral bacteria can enter the bloodstream directly from inflammed or bleeding gums? Consequently, its journey often concludes downstream in your arteries, which is particularly problematic for those with heart disease.

These bacteria can stick to any accumulated plaque deposits in your arteries and cause inflammation. This creates pressure on the arterial wall and can lead to artery constriction, one of the major contributors to coronary heart disease.

“Many of us do not realise that heart disease correlates strongly with gum disease, and bacteria from the mouth can circulate around the body and contribute to arterial blockage. These health issues can further impact your ability to exercise and manage your weight. For these reasons, dental treatment can be of direct benefit to those with a heart condition,” says Dr David Ashton.

“A periodontal clean along with your normal health treatments, such as those from a GP, will help control the overall number of harmful bacteria in your mouth. This in-turn reduces the risk of arterial blockage.”

Obesity, Diabetes & Your Oral Health

Nearly two-thirds of Australians aged 18 or over are overweight or obese, and this figure is rising.

The impacts of excess weight are felt throughout the body, from your cardiovascular system to the health of your gums. Obesity is a precursor to many common diseases, and is known to contribute to the following –

  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Hypertension
  • Arteriosclerosis

Studies have shown that obesity increases the likelihood of developing Periodontal Disease, and the condition results in a low-grade inflammation throughout your entire body, which changes the way our immune system reacts to foreign bacteria.

This inflammation makes our gums more susceptible to infection, and studies have linked weight gain to an increased risk of Periodontal Disease. Furthermore, people with Diabetes, another condition that is connected to weight-gain, are known to develop Periodontitis at two to three times the rate of the average person.

“All these conditions create a cyclic effect of negative health impacts – where each health issue provides an environment that can cause further health issues,” says Oral Health Therapist Katherine Brown.

The Common Risk Factor Approach

The common elements of risk that are shared between obesity, heart disease and periodontitis, are known as ‘confounding factors’. These include elements of your health such as nutrition, exercise, medications and a whole host of factors that can be discussed with your dentist and GP – and targetting these is called the common risk factor approach.

Fortunately, by understanding these common factors and by treating your gums as part of your normal health routine, we can help break this cycle.

Providing the right education, opportunities for prevention, and having a good understanding of the way all these areas of our health are connected – we hope we can play an active part in your health team and ensure your gums and smile remain healthy. After all, it’s not just good for your teeth, it’s also good for your heart!