Giving gum health the recognition it deserves

Gum Health Day, observed annually on 12 May, spotlights gum disease, a common yet often underestimated oral health issue with significant global impact. Nina Garlo speaks with Dr Jukka Meurman, Professor Emeritus of Oral and Maxillofacial Diseases at the University of Helsinki, on the importance of preventing gum diseases.

gum health day
Severe periodontal diseases affect about 19% of adults worldwide (Image: Anna Shvets/ Pexels)

When considering health and wellness, oral health often takes a back seat to topics like diet, exercise, and stress management. Yet, the importance of maintaining good oral hygiene goes beyond fresh breath and a beautiful smile. Recent research has shed light on the profound impact that oral health has on overall physical and mental well-being, emphasising the need to give it the recognition it deserves.

Traditionally, discussions about health have focused on factors like sleep, nutrition, and exercise, while oral health has been somewhat overlooked. However, experts are increasingly recognising the crucial role that oral health plays in maintaining overall health. In fact, oral health has emerged as one of the six main pillars of health in lifestyle medicine, highlighting its significance in holistic well-being.1

Renowned professor and neuroscientist Andrew Huberman, from Stanford Medical School, emphasised in a Huberman Lab podcast the importance of oral health for both physical and mental health. Also, studies show that poor oral health, much like sleep deprivation, can increase the risk of conditions such as metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and depression. Oral infections are linked to various physical illnesses and even premature death, underscoring the importance of maintaining a healthy mouth.2

But how exactly does oral health affect overall health? Research indicates that the balance of the oral microbiome, the community of bacteria in the mouth, is crucial for oral health and has far-reaching effects on the body’s response to disease. An imbalance in the oral microbiome, known as dysbiosis, can lead to a range of health problems, from common dental issues to serious systemic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s disease.3, 4, 5

Moreover, studies have found associations between oral infections and the development of certain types of cancer, further highlighting the interconnectedness of oral and overall health.5 Inflamed gums, for example, provide a direct gateway for bacteria to enter the bloodstream, potentially leading to widespread infections and inflammation throughout the body.

Gum disease: the root of many health problems

Dr Jukka Meurman, Professor Emeritus of Oral and Maxillofacial Diseases at the University of Helsinki, stressed the importance of raising awareness about the link between oral health and overall health. He emphasised the need for prompt treatment of oral infections, as untreated bacteria in the mouth can spread to other parts of the body, causing systemic inflammation, and increasing the risk of chronic diseases.

Dr Meurman highlighted that oral infections are particularly harmful for people with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, rheumatic and kidney diseases, and immune disorders. The increased risk of oral diseases also applies to people taking immunosuppressive drugs, which can predispose them to oral infections such as gingivitis and periodontitis. “In addition, immunosuppressive drugs can cause mucosal changes such as mouth ulcers and xerostomia (dry mouth), which increases the risk of tooth decay,” he said.

Gum disease, a common oral infection, is a prime example of the link between oral health and overall health. Left untreated, it can progress to more serious conditions such as periodontitis or peri-implantitis, which can have significant implications for both oral and systemic health. Timely detection and treatment of gum disease are essential to prevent further complications and maintain overall health.

According to the WHO, severe periodontal diseases affect about 19% of adults worldwide, exceeding one billion cases. Research links gum disease to serious systemic conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory issues, and adverse pregnancy outcomes.

Recognising this, the FDI Global Periodontal Health Project Task Team has developed resources to raise awareness, including a video on the 2017 Periodontal Staging, Grading, and Classification system. These tools aid dental professionals and patients in promoting oral health.

By adhering to treatment guidelines for periodontitis and peri-implantitis, dental professionals can manage these conditions, prevent progression, and enhance patient well-being. Increased awareness and preventive measures can collectively improve oral health and overall wellness worldwide.

While traditional oral hygiene methods like brushing and flossing are important steps to keeping gum infections at bay, they may not always be sufficient to maintain optimal oral health.6 New antibacterial teeth cleaning methods that are based on light-activated therapy have been developed showing promising results in killing harmful bacteria in the mouth especially when traditional oral hygiene methods are not enough. This home-administered treatment complements traditional oral hygiene practices and may be particularly beneficial for individuals with existing oral conditions or those seeking comprehensive oral care.

“Good oral hygiene and close contact with your dentist always pays off. International calculations show how expensive neglect of oral hygiene is for society and individuals. Dental diseases can spread quickly and require extensive treatment if not treated promptly. Prevention is always the cheapest option,” said Dr Meurman.

Adding home-administered antibacterial treatment to ones daily oral hygiene routine enhances dental self-care, particularly in cases where traditional methods prove insufficient or when an existing oral condition demands more comprehensive measures beyond standard brushing and flossing.7,8

“Lumoral is a new method for maintaining oral hygiene that has been shown in studies to be effective. It is not a substitute for other methods such as brushing or cleaning between teeth, but it complements them perfectly,” Dr Meurman concluded.

References

  1. Jaqua E, et al. (2023). The Impact of the Six Pillars of Lifestyle Medicine on Brain Health. Cureus.
  2. Kim JK, et al. (2013). Oral health problems and mortality. J Dent Sci.
  3. Maier T. (2023). Oral Microbiome in Health and Disease: Maintaining a Healthy, Balanced Ecosystem and Reversing Dysbiosis. Microorganisms.
  4. Silva DNdA, et al. (2022). The Microbiome in Periodontitis and Diabetes. Front. Oral. Health.
  5. Ray K. (2024). A crucial Fusobacterium nucleatum clade in colorectal cancer. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol.
  6. Aggarwal N, et al. (2019). Plaque removal efficacy of different toothbrushes: a comparative study. Int J Clin Pediatr Dent.
  7. Pakarinen S, et al. (2022). Home-Applied Dual-Light Photodynamic Therapy in the Treatment of Stable Chronic Periodontitis (HOPE-CP)—Three-Month Interim Results. Dent. J.
  8. Liu Y, et al. (2015). Antibacterial photodynamic therapy: overview of a promising approach to fight antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. J Clin Transl Res.

Related: From insight to action: Tackling diabetes and gum disease together