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Other Possible Oral Health Connections

Researchers continue to look for connections between diseases of the body and periodontal disease. Although certain links aren't as well established, there are some interesting developments and areas for further study.

Oral health and lung disease. Studies have found an association between gum disease and certain types of pneumonia, possibly from breathing in bacteria from the mouth. In fact, several studies have found that improving oral health can decrease the risk for pneumonia in nursing home and hospitalized patients. A 2008 study in Respiratory Medicine also found an association between peritonitis and COPD, which also share similar risk factors such as smoking.   

Oral health and osteoporosis. Periodontal disease causes bone loss that can lead to tooth loss. So, scientists theorize that having both osteoporosis and periodontal disease may lead to more rapid bone loss than osteoporosis alone would cause. While researchers believe there is a link, studies haven't yet confirmed it.

Gum disease and arthritis. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Periodontology looked at 109 people and found that those with rheumatoid arthritis were eight times more likely to have periodontal disease. There isn't an identified cause and effect relationship between gum disease and arthritis. But researchers believe there is a connection between the two diseases because they are both inflammatory disorders.

What You Can Do to Prevent Gum Disease

  1. Our mouths are swarming with about 400 species of bacteria, but only 15 of them actually cause gum disease. You can fight them in three key ways. Don't smoke. Smoking increases your risk of gum disease.
  2. Brush twice a day and floss once a day.
  3. See your dentist for regular cleanings.

"It's all about plaque control -- keep the teeth clean," says Kinane.

If you already have gum disease, talk with your dentist about the best way to keep it under control. "All the literature that we've looked at says that people who are diligent about not only cleaning at home, but who also come in for frequent checkups tend to slow down progression of gum disease the most," says Karimbux.

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