Ask the Dentist: Here's how exercise can help us fight gum disease

Lucy Stock, dentist at Gentle Dental Care in Belfast, highlights the link between physical fitness and good oral health

A study found that people who regularly worked out and had never smoked were 54 per cent less likely to have gum disease than those who did no regular physical activity
Lucy Stock

ARMS up, to the side, jump up and touch your toes… you've just helped keep your gums healthy.

Keeping the gum-ruining bad breath spectre from our doors takes more than regular toothbrushing and flossing. A group of studies have pointed towards the benefits of regular physical activity and its positive effects on improving our immune system which helps the body fight bone eroding gum disease.

This is great news as gum disease affects 70 per cent of the world's population, making it the second most common oral disease in humans, which is a lot of loose teeth and bleeding gums. Although the exact relationship between exercise and disease is still not clearly understood, the scientists can detect that exercise reduces cytokines, proteins travelling around our body that can cause inflammation.

One cytokine protein by-product is called C-Reactive Protein (CRP), which increases in people who suffer from gum disease. Exercise reduces levels of CRP – one possible explanation, scientists think, why exercising may work to slow down gum disease.

A study published in the Journal of Dentistry found that people who regularly worked out and had never smoked were 54 per cent less likely to have periodontitis (gum disease) compared to those who reported no regular physical activity.

The benefits of exercise do wane quite quickly if you stop – a month after you fall off the exercise wagon your cytokines return to previous levels. However, the exercise doesn't need to be high-intensity, nosebleed stuff; another study in the Journal of Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity found that the gentle practise of Tai Chi has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that are linked to a reduction in gum disease in older adults.

There are many studies that link moderate exercise with a decrease in the rates of flu and pneumonia and we know that keeping active supports our immune systems by reducing inflammation and improving our gut bacteria system defence mechanism.

In these Covid times when people are worried about catching infections it would seem more than well-judged to maximise our immune system in all ways possible and not just focus on preventing getting a disease.

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