Deadly Complications of Gingivitis
Don’t underestimate gingivitis. What starts as swollen, bleeding gums could actually kill you.
How? Well, let’s first look at how gingivitis develops. Gingivitis is primarily a result of poor oral hygiene. When the natural bacteria in your mouth interacts with the food you eat, a sticky film called plaque forms over your teeth. It mostly comes off when you brush your teeth, but it almost immediately begins building up again. If you don’t remove it for two or three days, it can harden and form tartar under your gum line. Tartar can only be removed by a dentist. As plaque and tartar accumulate, they inflame the gums, which causes them to swell up, turn darker in color, and bleed when they are brushed. Eventually, spaces form between the teeth that fill up with bacteria and more plaque, which often lead to infection. Infection then destroys both gum tissue and bone, at which point you actually start losing teeth.
It may not be entirely a person’s fault—up to one third of the population has inherited a greater susceptibility to gum disease, and those who have poor immune systems or nutritional deficiencies, take one of many antidepressant or cold remedy medications, or smoke are also at a higher risk. Whatever the cause, people with gingivitis do not clean their teeth to the degree that their teeth require cleaning. And the consequences can be deadly.
If the thought of losing teeth isn’t scary enough, consider this: that bacteria and inflammation in your mouth can spread throughout your body. When you’ve had severe gum disease for a long time, the bacteria enters your blood stream and travels to the arteries in your heart, where it can cause a heart attack. The bacteria in your blood can also lead to blood clots, which are a precursor for stroke. Heart disease and stroke are the first and third leading causes of death in the United States.
The combination of diabetes and gingivitis can also be disastrous. Diabetes will put you at a higher risk for developing gum disease, and that infection will in turn raise your blood sugar. This makes diabetes even harder to control.
Gingivitis has a similar mutually exacerbating relationship with pregnancy. Fluctuating hormone levels associated with pregnancy increase your susceptibility for gingivitis, and mothers with gingivitis are much more likely to give birth prematurely. Premature babies often have health problems because their organs did not have enough time to develop.
Evidence is building that gum disease increases your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease, too. It may be that the body’s reaction to the inflammation begins to attack brain tissue, too, or that the inflammation itself contributes to the development of the disease. In any case, there seems to be a correlation between poor oral hygiene and dementia. Keep in mind that Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
Gingivitis may even increase your risk of pneumonia when you inhale the bacteria in your mouth through your lungs. This phenomenon occurs most frequently when you are already breathing through a tube or sedated in the hospital, which makes the onset of pneumonia even more devastating.
Luckily, even if you are at a higher risk for developing gingivitis, it is a preventable disease. Learn about what you need to do to care for your teeth properly so as to avoid gingivitis and all of its deadly complications.