Exercise: Good for Muscles, Heart, Lungs & Yes, Teeth & Gums, Too!

If you’re unfamiliar with holistic approaches to health, you might be surprised by the fact that what’s good for general health is also good for your teeth and gums. Conventional wisdom says dentistry and medicine are two separate fields, not specializations within a single, broad field. So you see a dentist for your teeth and a physician for the rest of your body, as though one had nothing to do with the other.

Funny – how easily we can forget that the mouth is connected with the rest of the body!

Even physical exercise – or the lack of it – affects more that just our muscles, lungs and heart. Those are just the three areas where we feel it most. While we might get a “runner’s high,” we don’t really feel exercise in our brains, even as exercise has been shown to keep the brain fit and improve thinking. Likewise, we don’t feel exercise in our teeth and gums, but there are, in fact, established links between physical fitness and oral health.

For instance, check out the 2005 Journal of Dentistry study, which found that regular exercise lowers the risk of periodontitis (gum disease):

  • Never-smokers who exercised regularly “were about 54% less likely to have periodontitis” than those who didn’t exercise.
  • Former smokers who exercised regularly had a 74% lower risk.

Unsurprisingly, exercise did nothing to lower the risk of gum disease for smokers.

We see similar results when obesity is factored into the equation. For instance, one paper published last year in the Journal of Periodontology found that those with the lowest body mass index (BMI) and highest measure of physical fitness – gauged by percent body fat and maximum oxygen consumption – were less at risk for periodontal disease than other study subjects. “This study suggests,” wrote the research team, “that obesity and physical fitness may have some interactive effect on periodontal health status.”

In fact, there are three positive factors – “health-enhancing behaviors” – that have been shown repeatedly to reduce the risk of gum disease. They’re spelled out in the abstract of one last study I’d like to draw your attention to, also from the Journal of Periodontology:

After controlling for age, gender, race\ethnicity, cigarette smoking, other tobacco products, education, diabetes, poverty index, census region, acculturation, vitamin use, time since the last dental visit, dental calculus, and gingival bleeding, a 1-unit increase in the number of the three health-enhancing behaviors was associated with a 16% reduction in the prevalence of periodontitis (odds ratio [OR] = 0.84; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.77 to 0.93). Individuals who maintained normal weight, engaged in the recommended level of exercise, and had a high-quality diet were 40% less likely to have periodontitis compared to individuals who maintained none of these health-enhancing behaviors. [emphasis added]

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and get moving!

Images by Mait Jüriado and BBluesman, via Flickr

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2 Comments

Filed under Dental Health, Oral Health

2 responses to “Exercise: Good for Muscles, Heart, Lungs & Yes, Teeth & Gums, Too!

  1. This study is great. We try to impress upon our patients the importance of both exercise and smoking cessation. Thanks again for sharing!

  2. Pingback: From Wolf to Gingerbread Man: Gum Disease & Exercise - Pride Dental