The gum surface area of your mouth is about the same size as the surface area of your arm. If your entire right arm had a red rash, you would notice and seek medical attention, yet too often I see patients who don’t even notice when their gums are red and inflamed.
Gum inflammation is called gingivitis, inflammation of the gums. The cause of this inflammation is a sticky, colorless film of bacteria that forms between the teeth and the gums, creating a layer of plaque. If the plaque isn’t removed daily by brushing, flossing, and/or water picking, it produces toxins that can irritate the gum tissue.
Over time, the gums will bleed and recede, meaning more and more tooth is exposed, and less and less is protected by the gums. Long term, this can lead to a person losing their teeth.
Yet this inflammation is not only limited to your gums. Studies have shown that gingivitis will increase body-wide inflammation dramatically, as people with gum inflammation have nearly double the high sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) blood levels compared to people with healthy gums. This inflammation makes you achier, it slows your calorie burn rate and injures your tissues body wide. The good news is that proper dental care will heal your gums and bring your hs-CRP levels back to normal.
Studies have also shown that not only does gingivitis make you achy and cause you to gain weight; it increases your risk for arterial plaque growth as well. Dr. Desvarieux and colleagues followed 420 subjects over 3 years. Those with the most gum inflammation showed the most arterial plaque growth, as measured with carotid intima-media thickness scores (carotid IMT). Other studies have shown that not only does gingivitis cause plaque growth, but it increases your risk of heart attack and stroke by 25-30%.
Gum disease is also associated with an increased risk of memory loss and a drop in cognitive scores.
Several recent studies have shown that people with the most gum inflammation also have:
• Lower scores in the Mini-Mental State Examination test. (Sochocka, Curr Alzheimer Res, 2017).
• Decreased word fluency test scores (Naorungroj, J Am Dent Ass, 2016)
• And after 10 years of gum inflammation, a 70% greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease. (Chang-Kai Chen, Alzheimers Res Ther, 2017).
Fortunately, the solution to preventing gingivitis is pretty darn easy:
1. Avoid eating sugar and refined processed foods that feed the bacteria that grow between your gums and teeth.
2. Brush your teeth twice per day.
3. Floss your teeth once per day.
4. Use a water pick once per day.
5. See your dental hygienist 2-4 times per year to help clean away plaque that forms between your teeth and gums.
Your smile will be brighter and whiter, your breath fresher, and taking care of your teeth and gums will help you to feel better and prevent both heart disease and memory loss.
I wish you the best of health!
Steven Masley, MD, FAHA, FACN, FAAFP, CNS
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