Most of us get a bit lazy around Christmas, but if the Christmas malaise was to become a habit, it really could be bad for our health, and in particular bad for our gums and teeth.
A German study, published this month in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology, found that middle-aged men who failed to exercise were up to 40% more likely to develop otherwise preventable moderate to severe gum disease. The study, conducted by researchers at Hanover Medical School in Germany, took a group of 72 men between the ages of 45 and 65 with no health complaints who had jobs that mainly involved sitting for office work. The subjects’ lifestyles were assessed through questionnaires, with researchers particularly interested in their activity levels.
The researchers then made the men exercise to test their peak oxygen uptake. They also assessed the mens’ overall gum health. The researchers found that the men who were older and who engaged in the least physical activity were more likely to have developed moderate to severe gum disease.
What is Gum Disease and Who Gets It?
Gum disease, sometimes known as periodontal disease or gingivitis, is a common health problem that will affect most people at some point in their lives. It is estimated that about 50% of people have some degree of gum disease, though usually only a minor problem. Gum disease is common among adults but not children, and age is a known risk factor for the more severe forms.
Gum disease is caused by a buildup of plaque that can contain harmful bacteria. Minor gum disease may cause the gums to bleed while brushing our teeth, and for some people causes bad breath. Severe gum disease can entail a condition called periodontitis, where the bone in the jaw begins to decay, ultimately leaving teeth unstable and leading to tooth loss.
Why Does the Gum Disease Study Matter?
Let’s be clear, the study itself isn’t all that significant. The population sample is small and so no direct conclusions can be drawn from this research if it is taken on its own. However, based on other research, we do know that gum disease and lifestyle factors like, for instance, smoking, are closely linked. This research, therefore, isn’t really a surprise. What it does point to is the importance of physical activity, in particular for people with sedentary jobs.
Commentators on the research have also speculated that the cause of the higher levels of moderate to severe gum disease may have to do with snacking. Those who have sedentary office jobs might forego lunch and instead sit at their desks snacking on food throughout the day. This means there is a frequent stream of plaque that is being allowed to build up on the teeth. Obviously, trying to limit snacking is general good advice, and this study may serve to reinforce that.
Another important point that this research flags for us is the chance to talk about how our gum health appears to be connected to larger health problems. We know for instance that those with gum disease are more likely to develop conditions like heart disease, diabetes or perhaps even conditions like Alzheimer’s. It’s not that gum disease causes these health problems, but that the lifestyle factors that contribute to more severe gum disease also contribute to things like heart disease. As such, gum disease may be a red flag for future health concerns, giving you time to do something before those health problems crop up.
Good oral hygiene is always important and it can go a long way toward tackling milder forms of gum disease. Making sure that you brush at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste (though be careful not to over-brush) is a simple and effective way of treating or preventing mild gum disease. A dentist will have to be consulted for more aggressive forms of gum disease, but again this problem is relatively uncommon for most people.
So, time to get up and work off those pies if you want to save your smile and your general health!
Photo credit: Thinkstock.