The relationship between gum disease and systemic disease is not fully understood, but studies support the need to maintain good oral health as part of a healthy lifestyle.
The relationship between gum (periodontal) disease and diabetes has the most evidence to date. Studies show that having diabetes increases your chances of having periodontal disease. In fact, people with diabetes may get gum disease earlier and it may be more severe. This is also true for children: children with diabetes have more gingivitis than their peers without diabetes.
Some studies have looked at the relationship between glycemic hemoglobin levels and periodontal disease. (The glycemic index is a system that ranks foods by the speeds at which their carbohydrates are converted into glucose in the body; it is a measure of the effects of foods on blood-sugar levels). People with poor glycemic control often experience the worst periodontal health. The reverse is also true where those with good glycemic control can also have good oral health.
Bacteria in the mouth of people with periodontal (gum) disease can be inhaled into the lungs and increase the risk of respiratory diseases such as pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This risk is much greater in individuals who are already compromised or bed ridden from a stroke or other debilitating disease where the bacteria are allowed to colonize.
Researchers have studied the impact of periodontal (gum) disease of the mother during pregnancy. Some studies have shown a relationship in the number of premature births or low birth weight babies in mothers with periodontal disease. For instance, some evidence shows that if a mother develops periodontal disease early in the pregnancy or if an existing disease becomes worse, she has an increased risk of delivering prematurely. A premature delivery may also impact the weight and development of the baby thus increasing the risk of neonatal problems and other health and developmental problems later in life. This relationship underscores the importance of good oral hygiene during pregnancy. There is more research needed but some early studies show that treating periodontal disease during pregnancy can have a positive effect on pregnancy outcomes in some groups of women.
The relationship between heart disease and periodontal disease is still unclear. An early study showed that people with a history of heart attack usually had poor oral health. Subsequently studies have shown a mild to moderate link between periodontal disease and an increased risk of heart disease. But it should also be noted there are studies that show no association between the two. It’s also interesting that oral bacteria has been found in arterial plaques and one study showed that individuals with severe periodontal disease had a thicker carotid arterial wall compared to those who had less severe disease.
Researchers continue to look at this relationship and new evidence may be just around the corner. If nothing else, there is a clear negative relationship between smoking and both periodontal disease and heart disease.