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Gum disease may increase physical and mental health risks, study finds

Experts say poor oral health can impact consumers’ quality of life

Dentist with model teeth
Photo (c) Kanok Sulaiman - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Birmingham explored how gum disease may have wide-reaching effects on consumers’ health. According to their findings, being diagnosed with gum disease may increase the risk of certain mental health conditions and lead to poor heart health

“When oral ill-health progresses, it can lead to a substantially reduced quality of life,” said researcher Dr. Joht Singh Chandan. “However, until now, not much has been known about the association of poor oral health and many chronic diseases, particularly mental ill-health. Therefore, we conducted one of the largest epidemiological studies of its kind to date, using U.K. primary care data to explore the association between periodontal disease and several chronic conditions. 

“We found evidence that periodontal disease appears to be associated with an increased risk of developing these associated chronic diseases,” he added. “As periodontal diseases are very common, an increased risk of other chronic diseases may represent a substantial public health burden.” 

Oral hygiene impacts mental and physical health

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from more than 64,000 patients who had been diagnosed with gum disease by their general practitioners. They compared the health outcomes of these patients with over 250,000 patients with no history of gum disease. The team paid close attention to the development of cardiovascular disease, autoimmune conditions, cardiometabolic disorders, and mental health concerns over the course of three years. 

Ultimately, the researchers observed a clear link between those with a history of gum disease and the development of any of the physical or mental health concerns. Mental health concerns posed the biggest risk, as the risk of developing these issues increased by nearly 40% for those with gum disease. Gum disease also increased the risk of autoimmune diseases like arthritis by more than 30%. 

“Some of the biggest challenges of arthritis, especially autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) which affects 400,000 people in the U.K., is being able to know who is more at risk of developing it, and finding ways to prevent it,” said researcher Caroline Aylott. “Previous studies have shown that people with RA were four times more likely to have gum disease than their RA-free counterparts and it tended to be more severe. 

The study also showed that there was a nearly 20% higher risk of developing heart disease for those with gum disease, and a 7% higher risk of cardiometabolic conditions. 

Moving forward, the researchers hope more work is done to identify patients who may be close to developing gum disease, as this may help prevent serious long-term physical and mental health concerns. 

“This research provides further clear evidence why health care professionals need to be vigilant for early signs of gum disease and how it can have wide-reaching implications for a person’s health, reinforcing the importance of taking a holistic approach when treating people,” Aylott said. 

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