Gum disease is a common problem among Canadian adults, but you might be surprised to learn how it may be linked to other serious health problems.

The underlying factors behind gum disease (also know as periodontitis or periodontal disease) are relatively well understood but new research is revealing how it may play a role in other medical conditions, including:

  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Lung disease
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Cancer

Gum Disease and Erectile Dysfunction

According to Canadian health professionals, nearly 50 per cent of men aged 40 to 88 suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED) – a complex condition that can result from both physiological and psychological elements.

Well-known risk factors for erectile dysfunction include smoking, drinking alcohol, and high blood pressure. However, some scientists believe gum disease might also increase the risk of erectile dysfunction.

Although a link between erectile dysfunction and gum disease has not been definitively proven, physicians have been advised to refer ED patients to dentists for comprehensive assessment and treatment.

While gum health and sexual dysfunction may seem worlds apart, they could influence each other. For example, inflammation can spread from your mouth, via chemical messengers in the blood, to other areas.

Gum Disease and Lung Problems

Research in the US has found that gum disease may increase the risk of life-threatening lung infections such as:

  • Pneumonia
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

These infections may occur when bacteria from the upper throat are breathed into the lower respiratory tract. Researchers found that people with respiratory ailments had worse periodontal health than a control group.

Besides inhaling bacteria into the lungs, another problem is inflammation from gum disease that may also affect the tubes of the lungs, making it difficult to breathe properly.

Gum Disease and Alzheimer’s

Scientists believe periodontal disease may play a key role in the development of Alzheimer’s after finding evidence of a connection between bacteria in gum disease and people with dementia.

They analysed spinal fluid, brain tissue and saliva from Alzheimer’s patients, and found a bacterium associated with chronic gum disease – Porphyromonas gingivalis – in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.

Studies have also linked gum disease with an increased accumulation of beta-amyloid in the brain – the neurological signature of Alzheimer’s.

Gum Disease and Cancer

On the surface, gum disease and cancer appear to have little in common. However, research from Scandinavia published in 2017 pointed to an unexpected link between the two conditions.

The study concluded that the bacterium responsible for gum disease – Treponema denticola – might also cause some types of cancer, particularly pancreatic cancer.

Another study, published in 2018, also suggested a link between periodontitis and the risk of cancer – through the development of tumours in the gastrointestinal system.

How Your Dentist Can Help

Although the potential health complications from gum disease might be alarming, your dentist may be able to prevent or moderate the progression of serious diseases by keeping your gums in good condition with regular check-ups.

Your Kitchener and Waterloo dentist – Sherwood Dental has put together some top tips on how you can help to keep your gums and teeth healthy, and help the rest of your body to stay on track.