How Your Gums Affect Your Gut and Brain Health

How much thought do you give to your gum health? Unless you’re experiencing periodontal health issues, probably not too much.

Well, here’s a startling fact: Nearly half of U.S. adults over 30 show indications of gum disease.

Yikes! Perhaps that explains why nearly 180 million Americans are missing teeth. But gum health issues affect more than your teeth.

In recent years, a growing body of research is showing that when an individual’s gums are unhealthy, it can cause problems in the gut and brain, too. While dental hygiene tends to get more attention, it appears that caring for your gums is equally important.

Here are the basics on how to have healthy gums – and why it’s important to your gut and brain health.

About Periodontal (Gum) Health

Gum Health 2 Proper gum care is surprisingly simple. The standard recommendations are nearly identical to dental care: Brush twice a day, floss once a day, and see your dentist for cleanings every six months. Additionally, use a soft toothbrush and brush gently in small, circular motions.

There are a number of risk factors for gum disease such as smoking, hormonal changes in  women, certain illnesses and their medications, poor diet, and genetics.

The two most common signs of early gum health issues (gingivitis) are inflammation of the gums and bleeding when brushing your teeth. Other signs your gums are in trouble may include:

  • Mouth sores
  • Shiny appearance to gums
  • Bad breath
  • Bright red or reddish-purple gums
  • Gums that are tender only when touched

The symptoms of gingivitis occur when plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, builds up on your teeth and releases acids that irritate the gums. Plaque is always forming on your teeth. It becomes a problem when flossing and brushing doesn’t fully remove it.

If you go too long between teeth cleanings, bacteria may have started to accumulate and harden (forming tartar) above and below the gum level, which usually requires professional help to remove. Sometimes a “deep cleaning” is needed to remove buildup under the gumline.

If gingivitis goes unaddressed, things can get worse. The bacteria may infiltrate and damage the tissues under the gums, causing advanced gum disease.

If it continues to go untreated, the bone supporting the teeth can start to break down, sometimes leaving the roots of the teeth exposed and/or causing sensitivity. Spaces also can develop between the teeth, and the teeth may become loose. You can start to lose your teeth, one at a time.

It turns out that what’s happening under your gums can affect other parts of the body – including your gut and brain.

Oral Care and Gut Health

Since digestion starts in the mouth, it’s not too surprising to learn that if the oral microbiome is amiss – with perhaps too much of the bad bacteria that causes inflammation and not enough of the good kind – it may trickle down to the gut.

And it does.

Studies have shown that oral bacteria can translocate to the gut, impacting the microbiota and possibly immune function. In particular, a pesky oral bacteria called Porphyromonas gingivalis can cause an imbalance of microbiota in the mouth, as well as in the gut. Some researchers call this the gum-gut axis and suggest there’s a bi-directional relationship.

Severe gum health issues are associated with inflammatory bowel health problems and higher risk of abnormal cellular growth in the colon.

That’s not all though.

As your gastrointestinal tract is lined with more than 100 million neurons, it’s closely linked to your brain. You may have heard of the gut-brain connection. When your gut has inflammation issues due to the microbiome being disturbed (possibly because of poor gum health), it can impact mental health too. Researchers are calling this connection the oral-microbiota-brain axis (OMBA).

While not yet conclusive, research is revealing a potential link between the OMBA and neuropsychiatric health issues. It’s already well established that gut health issues are associated with low mood and feelings of anxiousness.

Indeed, oral health affects your brain as well.

Gum Health and Your Brain

Gum health’s impact on your brain extends beyond neuropsychiatric conditions to brain function itself. Emerging research has revealed an association between gum health issues and cognitive decline, memory loss, and cerebrovascular accidents.

It’s believed that bacteria and the inflammatory molecules they synthesize may travel from infections in the mouth through the bloodstream to the brain where they can cause problems.

A 2021 meta-analysis of 20 studies found an association between poor periodontal health and cognitive impairment. Additionally, it found that moderate and severe gum health issues were a risk factor for memory loss.

Further, a 2022 review of 47 published studies found that poor periodontal health appears to increase the risk of both cognitive decline and memory loss.

But perhaps most concerning of all is a link between gum health and neurodegenerative issues. Recent research has found that the bacteria that causes gingivitis, Porphyromonas gingivalis, can move from the mouth to the brain. Once there, the bacteria may release enzymes called gingipains that can destroy neurons. This in turn can lead to memory loss and life-threatening forms of cognitive impairment.

The systemic inflammation that can cause periodontal issues may play a role in strokes as well, though more research is needed.

Oral Care Is Critical to Your Health

Although much of the research on the relationship between gum health and healthy brain and gut function is observational, what has been found is compelling enough to underscore how critical gum health can be.


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Kim Henderson