Brush your Teeth to Protect Your Eyesight | The Link Between Gum Disease and Glaucoma

Posted Jan 2022

By Delta Dental of Arkansas

Tagged heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, vision loss, blindness, bacteria, inflamed gums, tooth loss, periodontal disease, gum disease, fluid buildup, POAG, optical nerve, glaucoma

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Here is another reason why you should brush and floss after breakfast and before you go to bed: This daily habit could help prevent vision loss as you age.

New medical research suggests a link between advanced gum disease and glaucoma, the second-leading cause of blindness in the U.S.

Let’s not turn a blind eye to the risk of vision loss.


What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is one of four common eye diseases that can cause permanent vision loss or blindness. The other three are 

  1. Cataracts (clouding of the lens), the leading cause of blindness in the United States 
  2. Diabetic retinopathy (damage to the blood vessels in the back of the eye), the leading cause of blindness in American adults 
  3. Age-related macular degeneration (gradual breakdown of light-sensitive tissue in the eye) 

Glaucoma is a condition characterized by the buildup of fluid behind the eye. In a healthy eye, a clear liquid flows in and out of a frontal space to nourish nearby tissues. If this drainage system is not working properly, the fluid builds up to cause eye pressure. Over time, the increasing eye pressure can damage the optic nerve, a bundle of more than 1 million nerve fibers that sends images from the eye to the brain. An impaired optic nerve leads to impaired vision and, eventually, permanent vision loss.

The most common form of glaucoma in the United States is primary open-angle glaucoma, POAG.

What Causes Glaucoma?

The cause of glaucoma isn’t known. However, certain risk factors have been identified, including:

  1. Age: People over age 60 are at greater risk for glaucoma.
  2. Race: African-Americans are more likely to develop glaucoma.
  3. Genetics: Glaucoma is often passed down through families.
  4. Medical conditions: Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and other circulatory conditions may increase the risk of developing glaucoma.

Now there appears to be growing evidence to add a fifth risk factor: gum disease.

What’s the Connection Between Gum Disease and Glaucoma?

In the last few years, researchers have conducted two major studies that point toward a link between periodontal (gum) disease and glaucoma:

  1. They discovered that recent tooth loss caused by advanced gum disease was associated with an increased risk of POAG. 
  2. They noted a statistically significant higher oral bacteria count among glaucoma patients than the control group.

In both cases, the researchers theorized that the bacteria from the inflamed gums could circulate through the body’s nervous system and, upon arriving at the eye, impact eye health and possibly increase the risk for glaucoma.


How is Glaucoma Detected?

There are no symptoms in glaucoma’s earliest stages, which is why the disease is often called the “silent thief of sight.” About half of the estimated 3.3 million Americans affected by glaucoma don’t even know they have it.

The disease is diagnosed from a comprehensive but relatively fast and painless eye exam that tests

  • your eye pressure,
  • your eye’s drainage angle,
  • your optical nerve,
  • your peripheral vision and
  • the thickness of your cornea.

How is Glaucoma Treated?

Unfortunately, no known cure for glaucoma exists.

Researchers recently developed an injection therapy that shows promise as a potential future treatment to reverse glaucoma, but the studies are far from complete. 

However, the disease can be slowed by the regular use of prescription eye drops to decrease eye pressures or the amount of fluid in the eye. Another form of treatment is laser surgery that creates a tiny opening in the eye to help the fluid drain.

How to Prevent Glaucoma

You can reduce your risk of developing glaucoma by taking the following steps:

  1. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet to reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
  2. Exercise regularly to stimulate your overall blood and oxygen circulation.
  3. Brush and floss daily to prevent the growth of bacteria from tooth decay and gum disease and see the dentist regularly for professional cleanings and check-ups.
  4. Schedule annual eye exams to spot and address developing eye health issues.


Keeping an Eye on You

Annual eye exams (and semi-annual dental exams) can save your sight and smiles. You can schedule yours at little to no out-of-pocket cost to you, thanks to affordable insurance. Delta Dental offers dental and vision insurance with different schedules of benefits and coverage to suit your needs, plus access to an extensive network of providers. 

Check out our plans for individuals, families and groups. You can even enroll online or call our local customer care department at 1-844-368-6484 if you have any questions.

To check out our network—even before you enroll—use this handy tool to find an eye care or dental provider in your area.

individual and family plan button  group plans button 

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Posted by Delta Dental of Arkansas



Posted by Delta Dental of Arkansas

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