We talk a lot about gum health on here, because we’re in the business of keeping your gums healthy. Gum disease is no joke, and unchecked it can wreak havoc on your teeth. But what else are your gums telling you about your health?
Healthy gums will be light to medium pink in color, will feel firm and fit snugly against your teeth, and won’t bleed during brushing and flossing. If those traits don’t describe your gums, you could be developing gum disease, which occurs when bacteria infects not only your gums and teeth, but eventually the gum tissue and bone that support the teeth. If so, you’re not alone. The CDC reports that nearly half of all adults 30 and older have some form of gum disease.
Signs of gum disease should be taken seriously, as they could eventually lead to tooth loss. But they also could be giving you clues about other issues in your body.
Do you wake up with headaches or sore jaws? If so, there’s a good chance you are grinding your teeth at night while sleeping, a condition called bruxism. Bruxism puts a lot of pressure on your teeth, jaws, and even your gums, which could lead to gum recession. Receding gums not only make your teeth look longer, but can also lead to sensitivity, and eventually tooth instability. If you suspect bruxism, talk to your dentist about a specially-made bite guard to wear at night. A bite guard is a non-invasive way to protect your teeth from damage if you grind while asleep.
While bruxism is normally caused by anxiety/stress, it also can be linked to sleep apnea. With sleep apnea, the throat muscles relax and can block your airway while you sleep, obstructing your breathing. And according to the National Sleep Foundation, nearly 25% of people with sleep apnea also grind their teeth. So if your apnea is related to bruxism, you may want to consider a form of bite guard that is made specifically for those with both bruxism and sleep apnea issues, instead of the CPAP devices normally used to treat apnea.
Healthy gums are normally a light to medium pink in color, or even darker, depending on your skin tone. But if your gums are very pale, that could be a sign of anemia. Anemia means you don’t have enough iron-rich hemoglobin, which is what gives blood its red color. If your gums are super pale, and you also experience weakness and dizziness, you should talk to your doctor. Not only is anemia a serious disorder, it could also be masking signs of gum disease, like redness of your gums.
If you have sores on your gums, you may have a form of herpes. Both strains of the virus that causes herpes — HSV-1 and HSV-2 — can cause cold sores. While these usually occur on the lips, they can also form inside of the mouth, even on the gums. If you test positive for herpes, your doctor can prescribe an anti-viral drug to speed up the healing process.
Immune System Problems
If you experience dry mouth and gums, you could be dealing with an immune system issue. For instance, Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease that affects the mucous membranes of the eyes and mouth, can lead to dry mouth, including your gums. And when your mouth is dry, it can make gum disease worse, since your mouth needs saliva to defend against bacteria buildup. Autoimmune issues also are often accompanied by inflammation, which can also negatively affect the gums.
If your body is struggling with diabetes, it might not be protecting your mouth from bacteria as well as it should. This can cause or worsen gum disease, and make healing difficult. And conversely, having infection in your mouth can put additional stress on the body, making it more difficult to control your diabetes. If you are diabetic, make sure and address any periodontal issues you may have as part of your overall health plan.
Other Serious Health Issues
Over the years research has shown that periodontal disease is associated with several other diseases, such as heart disease, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and even cancer. Although it was thought for years that bacteria was the culprit tying gum disease to these conditions, new research now demonstrates that inflammation may be the common demoninator.