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Untreated gum disease can lead to a multitude of complications, the most common of which include receding gums, loose teeth, damage to the periodontal ligament, recurrent dental abscess, damage to the alveolar bone, and tooth loss. In addition to complications that affect the teeth and the mouth, there are a handful of complications that affect other body parts but are still linked to gum disease in one way or another. These include cardiovascular disease, premature labor, lung infections, dementia, rheumatoid arthritis, and acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis, simply known as ANUG.

Cardiovascular disease, or CVD for short, is an umbrella term for conditions that affect the heart and the blood vessels. While the link between gum disease and cardiovascular disease is not entirely understood, it does seem like there’s some sort of connection between dental plaque and arterial plaque. In fact, individuals with gum disease are two to three times more likely to have a stroke, heart attack, or other serious cardiovascular diseases.

Premature labor, also called preterm labor, is defined as contractions that open the cervix three or more weeks before a woman’s due date. Research suggests that pregnant women with swollen or infected gums are more likely to give birth early, that is, before 37 weeks. Premature labor can result in premature birth, thereby delivering a preterm baby. Preterm babies are more likely to have health complications, such as low birth weight, underdeveloped organs, breathing difficulties, and vision problems.

Lung infections range from bronchitis and influenza to pneumonia and tuberculosis. These are most often caused by a virus or bacteria and can present a number of symptoms. Due to the relationship between gum disease and inflammation, sufferers of periodontitis may experience a worsening of chronic inflammation in certain lung diseases, namely asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Poor oral health can also aggravate lung infection symptoms and increase the likelihood of future flare-ups. Symptoms of lung infection include stabbing chest pains, a mucus-producing cough, body aches, a fever, shortness of breath, a runny nose, wheezing, a crackling sound in the lungs, fatigue, and bluish skin or lips.

Dementia is a term that encompasses several diseases related to a deterioration in cognitive function and a loss of certain thinking abilities. Research suggests that the bacteria that cause gum disease are the same bacteria that are associated with the development of dementia. Moreover, periodontitis and dementia are both prevalent in the elderly population, and many who suffer from one will also suffer from the other.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune and inflammatory disorder that primarily affects the joints. This means that the immune system mistakes healthy cells for unhealthy cells and attacks them, which causes the affected area to swell. In terms of gum disease, it seems that sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to develop severe symptoms of periodontal disease, specifically receding gums, bleeding when brushing, and tooth loss.

Acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis is a non-contagious infection of the gums that requires immediate treatment. Symptoms include bleeding gums, foul breath, painful ulcers, difficulty talking or swallowing, excess saliva, and a fever. As the infection spreads to different areas of the gums and also to the alveolar bone, it can destroy the gums between the teeth, create open sores and permanent holes in the gums, and result in loose and unstable teeth. In rare cases, if the tissue starts to die and waste away, ANUG may lead to gangrene of the lips and the cheeks.