Feature Archive

The Health Perils of Gum Disease

Gum disease does more than endanger your teeth and gums. It can also lead to and worsen far more dangerous ills.

By Dulce Zamora
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson

The eyes are the windows to the soul, goes the old saying. In the same way, growing research suggests, your mouth may be a kind of window to much of what happens to the rest of your body.

How exactly does the mouth reveal and even influence overall health and well-being? First, the condition of the teeth, tongue, and lips can determine how we talk, how we eat, what we eat, how we kiss, and how we go about our daily lives, says William Maas, DDS, MPH, director of the CDC's Division of Oral Health.

"There are children at school right now who can't quite concentrate on what the teacher is talking about because they have a nagging toothache," says Maas. "Maybe somebody at work is not functioning as well as they could [for the same reason]."

Sally Cram, DDS, a spokeswoman for the American Dental Association (ADA), agrees. "We can no longer think of the mouth as not part of the overall body, because so much that goes on in the mouth can affect the overall health in the body."

Cram cites research that links gum disease with heart disease, diabetes, lung problems, and premature and low-birth-weight babies. Helena Gallant Tripp, RDH, president of the American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA), says, "In bulimic patients [who] induce vomiting, you see the acid wearing away the inner surface of their teeth. You can pick up osteoporosis [bone thinning] in dental X-rays."