You may have heard about the link between periodontal disease-an infection of the gums-and other diseases. Many people with periodontal disease have certain other diseases as well.

This link raises many questions. Does periodontal disease cause these diseases, or do these diseases cause periodontal disease? Or does something else cause both of them?

Let’s find out by examining what researchers know so far.

Heart Disease

Some scientists believe that inflammation is the key to understanding the link between periodontal disease and heart disease. When you have periodontal disease, your immune system response causes your gums to become inflamed. This response causes other areas of your body, such as your arteries, to become inflamed as well. Inflammation of the arteries increases heart disease risk.

One scientific review points out that people with periodontal disease have certain microbes in their bodies. These microbes might invade the arteries and cause plaque to form in the arteries, which can also increase heart disease risk.

However, it’s also important to remember that several lifestyle choices can lead to both periodontal disease and heart disease. These include smoking and lack of exercise.

Diabetes

In one study, scientists evaluated the gum health of patients with diabetes and patients without diabetes.
They discovered that the patients with diabetes showed increased signs of periodontal disease.

Researchers believe that the connection between periodontal disease and diabetes lies with increased infection risk. People with diabetes are more likely to get infections, so they may be more likely to develop periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease may also worsen diabetes symptoms. In fact, periodontal disease can increase blood sugar.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Many people who have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) also have periodontal disease.

The two diseases are similar in several ways. Arthritis involves inflamed joints, just as periodontal disease involves inflamed gums. Both diseases can eventually destroy bone.

Scientists believe a common genetic factor may cause people to develop both diseases.

Respiratory Disease

In one survey analysis, researchers looked at the connection between poor oral health and chronic lung disease in 13,792 people. They found that people with a history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease had greater signs of periodontal disease as well. They also found that the greater the periodontal symptoms, the worse the subjects’ lungs functioned.

The cause is uncertain. One theory is that periodontal disease causes bacteria to build up in patients’ mouths. Sometimes, people can breathe in the bacteria. When it enters the lungs, the bacteria can cause pneumonia or other respiratory diseases.

Note that smoking increases the risk of both periodontal disease and respiratory disease.

Cancer

Researchers have also seen links between periodontal disease and certain types of cancer.

One study analysis found that men with periodontal disease had an increased overall cancer risk-even if they had never smoked. Not surprisingly, men who smoked and had periodontal disease were at greater risk for lung cancer. 

One theory is that periodontal disease decreases immune system function, which raises cancer risk.

Periodontal Disease Prevention

So, does periodontal disease cause other diseases? There is some evidence it might. There is also some evidence that certain diseases can lead to periodontal disease.

However, many factors play a part. Genetic factors or lifestyle choices might lead to both periodontal disease and another disease.

In any case, it’s important to prevent periodontal disease by:

  • Brushing and flossing daily
  • Seeing a dentist twice a year
  • Avoiding smoking
If you suspect you have periodontal disease, see a dentist right away. He or she can remove plaque and bacteria on the tooth root and around the gum line.

Take good care of your teeth and gums, and you may prevent other diseases as well.