Gum Disease May Mean More Than Just Bad Breath

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention1, 43% of Americans will have lost at least six teeth by the age of 65, and many of these teeth will have been lost due to periodontal disease. Another 18% have lost all their teeth. While this statistic is extremely grim, periodontal disease has much wider implications for overall health, and one of the earliest signs of periodontal disease can be persistent bad breath.

Although it’s upsetting to have bad breath, it is one of the mildest side-effects of gum disease. Gum disease is a potentially serious condition, and clinical studies have shown that gum disease, or periodontal disease, generally develops as a result of poor oral hygiene. Japan’s Kyushu Dental College2 has done extensive research into the causes of bad breath, and has identified the microbes responsible for causing this somewhat antisocial condition.

They examined 101 adult volunteers, some of whom were suffering from periodontal disease while others had healthy mouths. By analyzing saliva samples from the group, the research team was able to identify species of a microbe called Bacteroides forsythus, which is normally found deep under the gum line in cases of advanced periodontal disease. This microbe is strongly correlated with bad breath. While this is interesting, it’s important to remember that poor oral health can have far more serious ramifications for your overall health.

Clinical studies have shown links between the health of your mouth and your overall health, and maintaining good oral health and visiting your dentist regularly could help identify early signs of much more serious diseases. These include life-threatening conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and strokes.

This is because the open wounds created by periodontal disease enable bacteria to enter the bloodstream, creating an inflammatory reaction in the blood vessels. Once the bacteria are in the bloodstream they are able to bind with fatty plaque, and over time this can form blood clots blocking up arteries and vessels, eventually increasing the risk of strokes and heart disease.

When bacteria enter the bloodstream they also activate the body’s immune cells which produce cytokines3 in response, and these can have an adverse effect on the entire body. It is thought that if the level of cytokines in the pancreas becomes too high, and too prolonged, then insulin production can be damaged. The production of cytokines also plays an important role in rheumatoid arthritis, and anti-TNF-α medication, which was discussed in an earlier blog, is used for the neutralization of cytokines.

More research is needed into the link between periodontal disease and other health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and strokes. In fact, as research continues it seems likely that links to other conditions will be discovered. We already know that periodontal disease has been linked to systemic conditions, preterm births and rheumatoid arthritis. Periodontal disease can be responsible for so much more than merely bad breath, but this early warning sign should not be ignored.

  1. Dr. Harold Katz, Gum Diseases May mean More Than Just
  2. Awano, S., Gohara, K., Kurihara, E., Ansai, T., & Takehara, T. (2002). The relationship between the presence of periodontopathogenic bacteria in saliva and halitosis. International Dental Journal, 52 Suppl 3, 212-216.
  3. Waykole YP, Doiphode SS, Rakhewar PS, Mhaske M. Anticytokine therapy for periodontal diseases: Where are we now?. J Indian Soc Periodontol 2009;13:64-8
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2 Responses to “Gum Disease May Mean More Than Just Bad Breath”

  1. How can you let someone know they have bad breath without hurting their feelings?

  2. Jon says:

    The easiest way to let someone know about bad breath is to just tell them. There is no harm when telling the truth about dental care and breath. It’s part of the job. Funny photo with this article.

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