Study Suggests Gum Disease May Boost Asthma Risk

Gum disease can worsen asthma.

Bleeding gums are a sign of gum disease, and we also now know that this can increase the chance of asthma.

Protecting yourself from gum disease may be even more important than you thought, according to a study titled “Does Periodontal Infection Have an Effect on Severe Asthma in Adults?” published in the Journal of Periodontology. Conducted in Brazil, the study looked at two groups of adults, some with asthma and some without, and found that those with gum disease were approximately five times more likely to develop asthma (1) . Researchers factored in issues like age, level of education, smoking, osteoporosis and body mass index.

A “Significant Association”

It’s important to understand that the study did not prove a cause and effect relationship between the two conditions; however, in the words of Dr. Nigel Carter, OBE, Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, the research “points to a significant association between gum disease and asthma.”(2) It also adds asthma to a long list of other serious conditions – including heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and complications of pregnancy that have been linked to periodontitis.

A Worldwide Problem

Research that expands our understanding of the relationship between gum disease and asthma is important because both conditions are widespread and common. Asthma, with its relentless attacks of wheezing and breathlessness, is one of the world’s major non-communicable diseases. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, approximately 235 million people worldwide suffer from asthma (3). In the United States alone:

  • Approximately 25.9 million people have asthma
  • In a recent study, nearly 14 million reported having an asthma attack
  • Asthma leads to nearly 2 million emergency room visits each year
  • The total cost of the disease – including medical expenses and the cost of lost work and school days comes to more than $56 billion per year (4) .

As for periodontitis (the more advanced form of gum disease), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate it affects some 64.7 million Americans – approximately half of all Americans 30 and older (5).

Exploring the Link

As I mentioned before, a number of studies have suggested a connection between gum disease and a variety of other diseases, and many researchers believe inflammation may be at the heart of this link (6). Only further research, though, can discover whether preventing and treating gum disease can help reduce the risk of other serious conditions. That research is underway at locations around the world, and I’ll update you on results as they become available. While we wait to learn more, though, it’s important to focus on what we already know about gum disease – and why it’s so important for you to take steps to prevent it.

What You Can Do Now

Dental floss prevents gum disease.

Dental floss is one way to prevent gum disease.

Simply stated, what we know about gum disease today is that, left untreated, it can lead to painful inflammation and, ultimately, tooth loss. However, we also know that, in the words of Dr. Carter, gum disease is “as easy to prevent as it is to develop.”(7) Doing that starts with brushing at least twice a day and careful flossing along with the use of an oral irrigator (like Waterpik). Together, these steps can help keep plaque from forming on your teeth and, eventually, hardening into tartar. The other key step to preventing gum disease is seeing me for regular check-ups during which we will perform a thorough gum exam so we can make sure your gums remain healthy. That’s particularly important because gum disease, in its early stages, often has no symptoms – no way for you to tell you’re headed for trouble. Only a professional exam can find the earliest signs of gum disease and treat them before any problems get serious. So you leave the office with the peace of mind of knowing your gums are healthy and you’re doing everything you can to keep them that way. Meanwhile, if you have any questions about this recent study — or about any of the ongoing research into the link between gum disease and other conditions — please feel free to ask me or one of my staff.

Dr. Andrea Stevens is a cosmetic and family dentist in practice in Kanata, Ontario. If you have dental questions, you can call her at 613-271-7091 or visit her at Please also feel free to leave comments or questions below, and Dr. Stevens will be happy to answer!