Consider this: Roughly half of all American adults have some degree of gum disease.

Now consider this: Most of the top 10 causes of death these days are conditions that science has shown to be linked with gum disease.

Just how much poor periodontal health raises the risk of various systemic conditions is the focus of a British study published last month in BMJ Open.

Its authors started with data from over 64,000 patients who had a history of gum disease charted by their medical doctor. Most had gingivitis, or early stage gum disease, but nearly 3400 had periodontitis. This is the advanced, severe form of the disease, which can ultimately lead to bone and tooth loss.

The medical records of these patients were compared to those of roughly a quarter million patients with no recorded history of gum disease. The research team looked at how many patients in both groups – with gum disease and without – went on to develop cardiovascular disease, cardiometabolic disorders, autoimmune conditions, and mental health problems within a roughly 3-year period.

They found that the gum disease patients had a 37% higher risk of developing a mental illness and a 33% higher risk of developing an autoimmune condition such as rheumatoid arthritis. Their risk of cardiovascular disease was 18% higher, and their risk of a cardiometabolic disease was 7% higher – except when it came to type 2 diabetes. In that case, their risk was 26% higher.

Could there be a better reminder of how improving and maintaining good periodontal health is a key part of preventing whole body illness, including mental illness?

“This research,” said Caroline Aylott, Head of Research Delivery at Versus Arthritis, in a news release on the study,

provides further clear evidence why 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, reinforcing the importance of taking a holistic approach when treating people.

Indeed.

If you struggle with gum disease, maybe it’s time to make a slightly late new year’s resolution to turn that around to improve your total health and well-being. You can start by sussing out its causes and addressing those – improving diet and oral hygiene, quitting tobacco, reducing stress, and the like – as well as seeing a dentist for periodontal therapy. Here’s how we approach it in our St. Louis office.

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