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Gum disease relates to mental health and heart health risks

Healthcare professionals need to be vigilant for early signs of gum disease and how it can have wide-reaching implications for a person’s health.

A smiling woman. By Eric McGregor - (CC BY 2.0)
A smiling woman. By Eric McGregor - (CC BY 2.0)

A new study shows the connection between gum disease and increased risk of other illness including mental health and heart conditions. The research comes from the University of Birmingham, UK and it is based on a review of medical records.

For the assessment, the records of 64,379 patients were examined (provided by family doctors). With each record, the patient had a recorded history of periodontal disease, including gingivitis and periodontitis. The vast majority had gingivitis.

Gingivitis is a common and mild form of gum disease that causes irritation, redness and swelling of the part of your gum around the base of the teeth. In contrast, periodontitis is a severe gum infection that can lead to tooth loss and other serious health complications.

The records of the patients with one of the two forms of gum disease were cross-compared to the records of 251,161 patients who had no record of periodontal disease. Across all patient records the average age was 44 years and 43 percent were male and 30 percent were smokers.

The British scientists examined the data to establish how many of the patients with and without periodontal disease go on to develop cardiovascular disease (including heart failure, stroke, vascular dementia), cardiometabolic disorders (such as high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes), autoimmune conditions (for example,  arthritis, Type 1 diabetes, psoriasis), and mental ill-health (including depression, anxiety and serious mental illness).

There was a strong association with those patients who were diagnosed with periodontal disease at the start of the study and the development of one of the additional medical conditions. The mean time to develop one of the other conditions was within three years.

Overall, the chances of a person with periodontal disease developing mental ill-health was 37 percent. Whereas the risk of developing autoimmune disease was 33 percent. While the risk of developing cardiovascular disease was raised by 18 percent and of a cardiometabolic disorder was increased by 7 percent.

The researchers see this as indicative of a strong association of poor oral health and many chronic diseases, particularly mental ill-health.

At the heart of this is the oral microbiome, which refers to the balance of microorganisms residing within the mouth (where an imbalance of bacteria is the main trigger for gum disease).  The mouth with its various niches is an exceptionally complex habitat where microbes colonize the hard surfaces of the teeth and the soft tissues of the gums.  In particular, a change in the microbial equilibrium can allow pathogens to manifest and cause different types of diseases.

The research appears in the journal BMJ Open, titled “Burden of chronic diseases associated with periodontal diseases: a retrospective cohort study using UK primary care data.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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