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Gum Disease Leads to More than Tooth Loss

While we have long known that gum disease can lead to tooth loss, new research shows that periodontitis can also lead to a general breakdown of the natural immune system in your body; by creating an imbalance between the "good" bacteria and the "bad" bacteria that normally exist within your body.

How gum disease affects your entire body

As reported at, this imbalance is explained in this way:

"In a new study, University of Pennsylvania researchers show that bacteria responsible for many cases of periodontitis cause this imbalance, known as dysbiosis, with a sophisticated, two-prong manipulation of the human immune system.

Their findings, reported in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, lay out the mechanism, revealing that the periodontal bacterium Porphyromonas gingivalis acts on two molecular pathways to simultaneously block immune cells' killing ability while preserving the cells' ability to cause inflammation. The selective strategy protects "bystander" gum bacteria from immune system clearance, promoting dysbiosis and leading to the bone loss and inflammation that characterizes periodontitis. At the same time, breakdown products produced by inflammation provide essential nutrients that "feed" the dysbiotic microbial community. The result is a vicious cycle in which inflammation and dysbiosis reinforce one another, exacerbating periodontitis."

The research identified a particular pathogen, known as P. gingivalis, as a "keystone pathogen" in the development of periodontitis. While such pathogens alone do not "cause" disease, researchers are beginning to understand that these pathogens my "instigate" the process by which the disease develops. However, such pathogens are not limited to the development of periodontitis.

"Scientists are beginning to suspect that keystone pathogens might be playing a role in irritable bowel disease, colon cancer and other inflammatory diseases,’ [George} Hajishengallis, a member of the study, said. ‘They're bugs that can't mediate the disease on their own; they need other, normally non-pathogenic bacteria to cause the inflammation.’"

Further study is needed, of course, yet the implications are clear – that gum disease can lead to serious health problems – beyond mere tooth loss, when left untreated.

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