Harvard Men's Health Watch

Straight talk about oral health

Healthy teeth and gums can protect against tooth loss, gum disease, and even heart disease.

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Image: Thinkstock

If you want a snapshot of your current and future health, then open wide. "The condition of your teeth and gums can often show warning signs of serious issues, from potential tooth loss to possible cardiovascular disease and cancer," says Dr. Lisa Simon, instructor in oral health policy and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine.

Tooth decay and gum disease

The main issue with oral health is tooth decay, which strikes 90% of all adults, and gum disease, which affects approximately 40% of those ages 65 or older, says the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Gum disease—infection of the gums and surrounding tissues—develops when plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, builds up along and under the gum line.

There are two forms of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis. With gingivitis, the gums become red, swollen, and are prone to bleeding. These are signs of inflammation from plaque and tartar deposited below the gum line.

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