What Teeth Gums Say About Health

August 2018

By Michael Friedman, DDS MedicineNet.com


Can Mouth Bacteria Affect the Heart?
Some studies show that people with gum disease are more likely to have heart disease than those with healthy gums. Researchers aren’t sure why that is; gum disease isn’t proven to cause other diseases. But it makes sense to take care of your mouth like you do the rest of your body.

Gum Disease and Diabetes
Diabetes can reduce the body’s resistance to infection. Elevated blood sugars increase the risk of developing gum disease. What’s more, gum disease can make it harder to keep blood sugar levels in check. Protect your gums by keeping blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible. Brush after each meal and floss and rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash daily. See your dentist at least twice a year. Sometimes you dentists may want to see you more often.

Dry Mouth and Tongue Cause Tooth Decay
The 4 million Americans who have Sjögren’s syndrome are more prone to have oral health problems, too. With Sjögren’s, the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks tear ducts and saliva glands, leading to chronically dry eyes and dry mouth (called xerostomia). Saliva helps protect teeth and gums from bacteria that cause cavities and gingivitis. So a perpetually dry mouth is more susceptible to tooth decay and gum disease.

Medications That Cause Dry Mouth
Given that a chronically dry mouth raises risk of cavities and gum disease, you may want to check your medicine cabinet. Antihistamines, decongestants, painkillers, and antidepressants are among the drugs that can cause dry mouth. Talk to your doctor or dentist to find out if your medication regimen is affecting your oral health, and what you can do about it.

Stress and Teeth Grinding
If you are stressed, anxious, or depressed, you may be at higher risk for oral health problems. People under stress produce high levels of the hormone cortisol, which wreaks havoc on the gums and body. Stress also leads to poor oral care; more than 50% of people don’t brush or floss regularly when stressed. Other stress-related habits include smoking, drinking alcohol, and clenching and grinding teeth (called bruxism).

Osteoporosis and Tooth Loss
The brittle bone disease osteoporosis affects all the bones in your body — including your jaw bone — and can cause tooth loss. Bacteria from periodontitis, which is severe gum disease, can also break down the jaw bone. One kind of osteoporosis medication — bisphosphonates — may slightly increase the risk of a rare condition called osteonecrosis, which causes bone death of the jaw. This is usually only a concern after involved dental surgery. Tell your dentist if you take bisphosphonates.

Pale Gums and Anemia
Your mouth may be sore and pale if you’re anemic, and your tongue can become swollen and smooth (glossitis). When you have anemia, your body doesn’t have enough red blood cells, or your red blood cells don’t contain enough hemoglobin. As a result, your body doesn’t get enough oxygen. There are different types of anemia, and treatment varies. Talk to your doctor to find out what type you have and how to treat it.

Thrush and HIV
People with HIV or AIDS may develop oral thrush, oral warts, fever blisters, canker sores, and hairy leukoplakia, which are white or gray patches on the tongue or the inside of the cheek. The body’s weakened immune system and its inability to stave off infections are to blame. People with HIV/AIDS may also experience dry mouth, which increases the risk of tooth decay and can make chewing, eating, swallowing, or talking difficult.