If you suffer from gum disease – and most Americans have it to one degree or another – getting regular exercise is one of the best things you can do. This is the surprising conclusion of research published last month in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology.
The study looked at periodontal disease in lab rats that were trained to swim for one hour daily. The progression of gum disease in these rats was then compared to that in less active rats.
Now, one consequence of gum disease is loss of the aveolar bone that supports your teeth. This not only weakens the jawbone but destroys the tooth sockets, eventually loosening the teeth.
Another consequence is loss of the tissue that attaches teeth to the aveolar bone, the epithelial attachment. This causes the gums to separate from the teeth, producing both the receding gums and deep pockets next to the teeth typical of gum disease.
As gum disease progresses, these conditions only become worse. The ultimate outcome is tooth loss.
That wasn’t the case with the rats that exercised. They showed less bone and attachment loss than the rats that didn’t exercise.
Molecular analysis showed that exercise decreased the level of a protein called TNF-alpha and increased the level of another called IL-10. These proteins control inflammation. This suggests that exercise results in decreased inflammation in the gums, which then alleviates the effects of gum disease.
It also resulted in decreased anxiety among the rats with gum disease – and made the rats without gum disease more resistant to anxiety.
We’ve looked before at the benefits of exercise – the drug without side effects, as we called it, referring to a report which found that it can help prevent many chronic diseases. These include dementia, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, depression, heart disease, and many other chronic conditions
We can gum disease to that list.
Notably, all these conditions are marked by something exercise helps alleviate: chronic inflammation. (Some have even gone so far to suggest that inflammation may be a factor in all diseases.)
Chronic stress, as we’ve noted before, is well known to worsen many diseases. Being constantly stressed results in high levels of a hormone called cortisol. One of its effects is a dramatic increase in chronic inflammation. Stress and high cortisol, in turn, are known to worsen gum disease. By controlling both inflammation and anxiety, exercise may have a double benefit against stress-related illness.
Inflammation also links gum disease and diabetes, and seems to work in two directions. Diabetes causes changes in the type of bacteria living in the mouth, which result in increased inflammation. At the same time, the inflammation in the gums makes other conditions worse, such as heart disease, stroke, and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as diabetes.
Thirty minutes a day, 5 days a week is the minimum recommended physical activity. Choose whatever fits your interest. Perhaps you enjoy working out at the gym. Or maybe you’d prefer a brisk daily walk, or swimming or dancing or working in the yard, or a combination of different activities – whatever fits your abilities and interests.
The main thing is to move – and to do so through something that you enjoy enough to keep doing it. Doing so, you’ll improve both your oral and overall health alike.