Diabetes. When diabetics develop periodontal disease, their sugar control worsens, as does the rate of complications from the disease, such as nerve damage and kidney disease. Treating periodontal disease reduces blood sugar levels significantly.

Possible reason: Diabetes causes inflammation, as does gum disease, and the two conditions worsen each other.

Pancreatic cancer. A recent study by doctors at the Harvard School of Public Health showed that men with periodontal disease were 63% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. Further studies are needed to confirm these findings.

Pregnancy complications. Women with periodontal disease have more pregnancy complications, such as premature birth and possibly miscarriage. Treating periodontal disease in pregnant women reduces the rate of low birth weight.

Respiratory illness. Regular brushing and use of antibacterial mouthwashes can halve the risk of pneumonia in people admitted to hospitals (and in frail residents of nursing homes).

Kidney disease. Researchers at the University of North Carolina Kidney Center studied more than 5,000 older people. They found that those with more antibodies to oral bacteria from periodontal disease were 70% more likely to have impaired kidney function.

Rheumatoid arthritis. People with periodontal disease are more likely to have rheumatoid arthritis and vice versa. As with diabetes, the link is probably due to inflammation.


Risk factors for gum disease…

Smoking. This is the number-one risk factor for periodontal disease. If you’re a smoker, you have another very, very good reason to quit.

Aging. Older people have more periodontal disease, probably because there’s been more wear and tear on their gums.

Being overweight. Extra fat puts you at extra risk — probably because fat tissue generates inflammatory cytokines, which worsen gum infections.

Medications. Many medications cause dry mouth, and a lack of saliva contributes to gum disease. Some of the most common mouth-drying medicines are antihistamines, antidepressants, high blood pressure medications and steroids. If you have dry mouth, talk to your doctor or dentist.

Genes. If there’s a history of gum disease and tooth loss in your family, you may be more at risk.


To reduce your risk of periodontal disease…

Floss twice a day, before brushing your teeth. Flossing helps you clean areas between your teeth.

Brush at least twice a day. Gum disease is fueled by biofilm, or plaque — a multilayered, mineral-encrusted bacterial ecosystem. Biofilm re-forms every 12 hours. Brushing twice a day helps keep it in check.

Use the best toothbrush. Studies show that a power toothbrush is more effective than a manual brush at reducing plaque. However, any toothbrush works if you use it correctly twice a day, with the bristles at a 45-degree angle to the gums, wiggling rather than scrubbing. For an excellent step-by-step refresher course on brushing and flossing, visit the “Daily Care” section of the Learning Center at www.oralb.com.

See your dentist regularly, twice a year if your gums are healthy… three to four times a year if you have periodontal disease.

Try omega-3s. Supplementing your diet with one to two grams per day of omega-3 fatty acids, available at drug-stores and health-food stores, may help decrease inflammation.

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