While most of us understand the link between regular exercise and maintaining healthy muscles, few people realize the impact regular physical activity can have on the health of the gums. In fact, until recently that impact was largely overlooked. But a few years ago, researchers from Case Western Reserve University’s School of Dental Medicine decided to take a closer look.
What they found was that people who exercised regularly were 16 percent less likely to have gum disease compared to those who did not engage in regular physical activity. And when exercise was combined with eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight, the risk of periodontal disease was decreased by 40 percent.
The link between diet and gum disease had been established by previous studies, and it just made good sense; after all, the food we eat provides the nutrients that are essential for gum health. And researchers also knew maintaining a healthy weight helps avoid diabetes, a major cause of adult gum disease. But whether or not regular exercise alone played a role wasn’t clear.
How does it work?
Exercise appears to work in several ways to promote good gum health. First, like weight loss and healthy eating, regular exercise helps decrease the risk of diabetes and lower blood sugar levels. Diabetes causes blood vessels to become thicker, making it difficult for gums to get the oxygen and nutrients they need to stay healthy, while also interfering with the body’s natural ability to remove toxins and wastes from the gum tissues. Plus, increased blood sugar can cause an increase in the sugar content of saliva, which helps support unhealthy bacteria levels in the mouth.
Second, the study’s researchers noted physical activity reduces the blood levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker produced by the kidneys. C-reactive proteins are always present in the bloodstream, but when the immune system ramps up in response to infection or disease, immune cells called T cells cause the protein to be produced in greater amounts. When high levels of C-reactive protein are found in the blood, it’s a sign inflammation is occurring somewhere in the body. Since inflammation is a major contributor to many types of disease, including gum disease, lower levels of C-reactive mean the risk of developing these diseases is lowered as well. In the gum disease study, C-reactive proteins were reduced in study participants who exercised regularly, suggesting physical activity reduces inflammation that contributes to the disease.
Gum Disease: It’s More Common Than You Think
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about half of all adults in the U.S. have gum disease, making it the leading cause of adult tooth loss. In addition to aesthetic concerns, tooth loss can have serious health consequences. When a tooth is missing, the bone that supported the tooth begins to disintegrate. Over time, teeth that remain on either side of the opening left by missing teeth begin to lean in toward that gap, resulting in loose roots and a significantly higher risk for bacterial invasion and decay. While dentures can help with aesthetics and functional issues like chewing and speaking, they can’t stop progressive bone loss.
Preserving the underlying bone after tooth loss is one of the primary reasons many patients are turning to dental implants. Dental implants perform the same way as a natural tooth, including providing necessary stimulation bone tissues require to prevent disintegration.
Getting regular exercise is a simple but extremely important step you can take to preserve the health of your gums, and visiting your periodontist for a checkup is another. If you haven’t had a periodontal checkup recently, call our Brentwood office at 615-370-9486 and schedule yours today.