Grab a mirror and say "cheese,” because you may want to take a closer look at your gums. If they're light pink and firm, you're in the clear. But if you're seeing an angry shade of red with some swelling, you could be suffering from gum disease like gingivitis or periodontitis. The bigger deal? Infected gums could put you at risk for these serious diseases:
#1: Alzheimer's Disease
A recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE shows that periodontitis (advanced gum disease) is associated with increased dementia severity and a more rapid decline in cognitive abilities. Those with periodontitis experienced cognitive decline six times faster than those without. Study researchers believe the antibodies in periodontal bacteria are closely associated with inflammation—which can also speed up the progression of dementia. Though more studies are needed to determine a direct relationship between periodontitis and cognitive decline, researchers believe that treatment of gum disease could also act as a possible treatment for symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
People who have experienced an intracerebral hemorrhage (a major type of stroke where blood bursts into the brain tissue) were more likely to have a specific type of bacteria in their saliva called cnm-positive S. mutans, according to a recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports. Among other patients who had other types of stroke, only 6% tested positive for that type of bacteria. Study authors believe that, in addition to causing poor oral health like gum disease and cavities, cnm-positive S. mutans bacteria can also bind to blood vessels weakened by age, making it more likely for them to seep into a compromised blood-brain barrier and cause a hemorrhage.
#3: Heart Disease
While the American Heart Association recognizes a link between gum disease and heart disease, they haven't confirmed that one actually causes the other—but research out of the University of Florida makes a good case for it. Findings presented at an annual meeting for the American Society for Microbiology show that the same bacteria that cause gum disease can also promote heart disease. The study, which involved mice, showed that once the oral bacteria that causes gum disease was introduced into the mouse's blood stream, their risk factors for heart disease—like rising levels of cholesterol and inflammation—increased.
#4: Rheumatoid Arthritis
A study published in the journal PLOS Pathogens shows that the same bacteria responsible for periodontal disease, Porphyromonas gingivalis, not only leads to an earlier onset of rheumatoid arthritis, but also allows the disease to progress faster and increases its severity through rapid bone and cartilage destruction. Researchers from the University of Louisville believe inflammation is at play once again, as P. gingivalis produces a specific enzyme that triggers the body's immune system defenses.
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