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Could Gum Disease Increase Your Risk of Heart Attack or Cancer?

Could Gum Disease Increase Your Risk of Heart Attack or Cancer?

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Most people know that periodontitis (or gum disease) can lead to tooth loss, and those that don't will inevitably discover this fact if they don't keep up with their brushing and flossing. However, recent studies indicate that gum disease may also be a precursor to more serious problems than just gaps in your smile. Although the precise nature of the connection remains to be shown, there is mounting data suggesting a link between periodontal disease and an increased risk of many potentially fatal health conditions, including heart attack, premature childbirth, stroke, diabetes, and even some cancers. In fact, one study found gum disease to be a larger risk factor for heart disease than being overweight, high cholesterol, lack of exercise, or even smoking.

Most researchers speculate that the bacteria that cause gum disease infect the bloodstream and travel via blood vessels to other parts of the body, spreading the infection and contributing to the development of other health problems. Others theorize that the genetic marker which predisposes 30 percent of the population to a greatly increased risk of gum disease may also be involved. Regardless of the specifics of the connection, it seems prudent to minimize the risks of developing gum disease in order to maintain optimum health, both oral and otherwise.

And if you don't think this applies to you, think again: it's estimated that 80 percent of American adults have some form of periodontal disease, and most of them don't even know it. While loose teeth, persistent bad breath, and red, swollen, or bleeding gums are the most common symptoms of gum disease, only a trained oral health specialist can properly diagnose the condition and prescribe a treatment program to alleviate the problem. Of course, your family's medical history can also be a major factor, so talking to older relatives about their dental health issues may help you avoid some of your own.

If you suspect that you may have some form of periodontitis (a suspicion most likely founded, considering the odds), talk to your dentist about gum disease during your next regular checkup — or possibly sooner, if you are currently displaying any of the above symptoms. Depending on your condition, your dentist will be able to recommend an appropriate course of treatment or refer you to a periodontist, a dentist who specializes in treating gum disease. While regular brushing and flossing along with eating a balanced diet constitute the first line of defense against gum disease, medications are also available which can slow or arrest the disease's advancement. In extremely advanced cases, surgery to clean out infected tissue and reshape the gums may be the only remaining option, but even then the inconveniences of any periodontal treatment are relatively minor, at least compared to the potential consequences should the disease remain unchecked.

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