Over 700 species of microbes reside in the mouth. As is the case for the gut microbiome, some bacteria are good, and some are not. Together, they are called the oral microbiome. These bacteria constantly interact with the rest of the body and can have a great impact on health and disease.

A study published in 2012 found that more than 64 million Americans aged 30 or older had periodontal (gum) disease. Gum disease, also known as periodontitis, is a severe infection of the gums caused by an immune response to imbalanced oral bacteria. Inflammation from periodontal disease can damage gums, destroy the jawbone, and lead to tooth loss. Several studies have shown an association between periodontal disease and other systemic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and dementia. But what about the association between dental health and kidney disease? In this blog, I am going to explore that link.

Periodontal disease and systemic inflammation

The oral microbiome produces metabolic by-products in the mouth. Some of these by-products leak into the blood stream and lead to a low-grade systemic inflammation. Studies have shown that patients with severe periodontitis have elevated levels of pro-inflammatory mediators and increased neutrophil numbers in the blood. In fact, successful treatment of gum disease was associated with improvement in inflammatory markers. Many of these inflammatory markers have been linked to heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases. This may explain the link between periodontal disease and systemic diseases.

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CKD is an inflammatory state

Low-grade inflammation has been shown to be an integral aspect of chronic kidney disease (CKD). Here, too, inflammatory markers were found to be elevated. As kidney function worsens, the levels of these markers increase in the body. They also increase with increasing urine protein (albuminuria), which is common in CKD.

On the other hand, an evaluation of the Chronic Renal Insufficiency Cohort (CRIC) study found that elevated inflammatory markers were associated with rapid progression of kidney disease. So, the relationship between inflammation and kidney disease is bidirectional. CKD can lead to inflammation and inflammation can lead to and worsen CKD.


Can gum disease cause kidney problems?

Periodontitis can increase the risk of CKD by direct and indirect effects. Directly, periodontitis increases systemic inflammatory burden leading to an increased incidence of CKD. In a recent review of 37 studies, researchers found strong evidence that periodontitis is associated with an increased risk for CKD. This association remained strong after adjusting for other risk factors.

Periodontitis can also increase the risk for CKD indirectly by increasing the risk for insulin resistance and diabetes. In this study, diabetes increased the odds of CKD by twofold, and 6.5% of this effect was mediated by periodontitis.

In addition, some of the increased risk of CKD may have to do with genetics. For example, variants in vitamin D receptor gene were associated with CKD during inflammatory conditions caused by periodontal disease.

There is not a lot of data on how treating gum disease affects CKD. However, in this pilot study, researchers found that treating severe chronic periodontitis for 180 days led to improvement of all periodontal clinical parameters. This was associated with statistically significant improvement in kidney function and markers of inflammation.

CKD and periodontitis: Does kidney disease affect oral health?

On the other hand, CKD can affect oral health by inducing gum overgrowth (known as gingival hyperplasia), dry mouth, calcification of root canals, and delayed eruption of teeth in children. These can lead to increased risk of periodontal disease. In addition, severe periodontal disease was found to be more common in patients with more severe CKD.

Kidney disease, gum disease, and nutrition

There is a triangular interaction between nutrients, CKD, and periodontal disease. Protein wasting that is common in kidney disease, for example, can increase the risk of periodontal disease. Omega-3 fatty acids, on the other hand, were found to be beneficial in the management of chronic periodontitis. Many other nutrients and micronutrients that can be altered in CKD were also associated with periodontal disease.

CKD medications may cause gum and teeth problems

Some of the medications that are used for patients with CKD can also increase the risk for periodontitis. Medications such as calcium channel blockers that are used to treat blood pressure can lead to gum swelling and overgrowth. This was also noted in some transplant medications such as cyclosporine. Other medications can be associated with dry mouth, which can promote gum and teeth problems. These include ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, betablockers, and diuretics.

The bottom line on chronic kidney disease and oral health

Both periodontal disease and CKD are associated with low-level systemic inflammation. The association between the two is bidirectional. Periodontal disease can increase the risk for CKD and the rate of its progression. On the other hand, CKD can also worsen periodontal disease. Paying attention to oral health is essential for the prevention of many chronic diseases. It is also crucial for preventing or slowing down the progression of CKD.