Gum disease is a widespread problem. Data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that more than 47 percent of American adults age 30 and up have some form of periodontal disease. That means gum disease affects about 65 million people in the U.S. alone!
Understanding Gum Disease
Periodontal disease is an infection of the gums that causes inflammation that can spread to surrounding structures, such as teeth and bone. It is directly caused by plaque, which is a sticky, colorless, and bacteria-laden substance that accumulates on teeth and below the gumline. Plaque must be removed through regular brushing and flossing. If not removed, plaque will harden into dental calculus—also known as tartar—which will further undermine gums, teeth, and bone. Teeth will loosen and fall out over time, and gum disease is also linked to diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
The Stages of Gum Disease
There are two primary stages of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis is the earliest and least serious form, but if left untreated, it can quickly develop into the more serious type.
Gingivitis is the mildest form of gum disease. It is reversible and can be undone often just through better oral care at home and always through professional in-office treatments performed by your dentist. The reason gingivitis is reversible is that bone and connective tissues are not yet affected, and gum tissue can regenerate. The inflammation is caused by plaque accumulation at and just below the gumline and is often characterized by gums that are red, swollen, and tender and that tend to bleed easily, such as when brushing. Despite this, there is generally no pain or even discomfort at all at this point. While gingivitis is caused by poor oral hygiene, there can be many other contributing factors.
Untreated gingivitis will eventually evolve into periodontitis, which is characterized by irreversible damage to the bone and connective tissues that support your teeth. As plaque spreads, periodontal pockets eventually form below the gumline. Both bacteria and food particles accumulate in these pockets. Secreted toxins irritate the gums, which triggers an inflammatory response. That chronic inflammation causes tissues, bone, and teeth to break down over time. As the pockets deepen, even more tissue and bone are destroyed. Despite this destructiveness, the symptoms can be rather mild, but the teeth will eventually loosen to the point that they have to be removed or fall out on their own.
Gum Disease and Contributing Factors
The primary cause of periodontal disease is plaque that accumulates through poor oral hygiene. However, there are risk factors that can make you more predisposed to the disease.
- Age – People are statistically more prone to gum disease the older they get. According to the CDC, more than 70 percent of seniors have gum disease, which is the highest rate among any demographic.
- Tobacco use – Smoking and other use of tobacco are linked to a wide range of health complications. Tobacco users are also at much greater risk of periodontal disease. Not only is tobacco use among the most significant risk factors, but users are also much more susceptible to the disease evolving at an accelerated rate.
- Genetics – There is also a great deal of data that suggests that some people are just more genetically predisposed to gum disease than others. It is possible to determine if you are such a person through genetic testing, and if you are, then a preventative treatment regimen can be established.
- Stress – Stress is a risk factor for many oral health issues, including gum disease, as well as systemic health issues, such as high blood pressure. While stress is a fact of life, it can be managed so that it does not undermine your health. Effective management begins with a well-balanced diet and regular exercise, and you can incorporate deep breathing, meditation, massages, yoga, and so forth.
- Medications – There are heart medications, antidepressants, oral contraceptives, and other medicines that can make you more prone to gum disease. Make your pharmacist aware of all the medicines you take so that he or she can advise you of potential side effects, such as degraded gum health. In addition, whenever you are prescribed a new medication, discuss it with your dentist, who may adjust your oral hygiene.
- Obesity and Nutritional Deficiencies – A well-balanced diet is important because you need those nutrients to fend off infection. Gum disease is an infection, so poor nutrition can make you more susceptible as well as accelerate the disease. Recent research has shown increased oral bacteria associated with gum disease present in obese people.
- Bruxism – Bruxism is a condition characterized by excessive clenching of the jaw or grinding of the teeth. Such excessive force can undermine the periodontal tissues and make them more prone to infection.
- Systemic diseases – Any systemic disease that can trigger inflammatory responses or weaken your immune system can be a contributing factor for gum disease. It is important to keep your dentist informed of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, and any other health conditions.
The Symptoms of Gum Disease
An issue with self-diagnosing gum disease is that the symptoms are often hard to perceive. This is even truer for smokers due to the constriction of blood vessels in the gums. In some people, obvious symptoms never manifest until the gum disease has progressed to the most advanced stage. Regular dental visits are key, but there are warning signs that you should watch for, including:
- Persistent halitosis
- Frequent oral sores
- Loose or separating teeth
- Red, swollen or tender gums
- Changes to the feel or look of your bite
- Receding gums or teeth that appear longer
- Full or partial dentures that do not fit as well
- Bleeding while brushing, flossing, or even eating
The Link Between Gum Disease and Systemic Health
Research has correlated periodontal disease to many serious health issues, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, osteoporosis, and even cancer. The link between oral health and systemic health has long been associated with bacteria, and recently, researchers have found bacteria associated with periodontitis in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Nevertheless, other research has revealed that inflammation may be the leading cause of the link instead. Medicine has even found links between gum disease and rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic inflammatory disorder.
How to Prevent Gum Disease
The good news when it comes to gum disease is that it is completely avoidable, and this is true no matter the contributing factors. It all comes down to good oral hygiene.
- Brush twice a day – You should brush once after breakfast and again before going to bed. Use fluoride toothpaste and a toothbrush with soft bristles. Brush gently. Brush for at least two minutes and no more than three. Make sure to get every side of every tooth, and do not forget to brush or scrape your tongue.
- Floss when you brush – You must floss your teeth and gums at least once a day, and many dentists recommend doing it whenever you brush. Get between the teeth and just below the gumline.
- Rinse your mouth – Rinsing vigorously with water can be an effective way to clean your mouth after snacks and the like. You can also use a therapeutic oral rinse to wash away food particles that you may have missed.
- Identify your risks – Your risk factors are unique to you. Be aware of them. Discuss them with your dentist. Together, you can take steps to safeguard yourself against the factors that make you more prone.
- See your dentist twice a year – A common mistake younger adults make is only seeing a dentist when there is an obvious problem, but as mentioned, gum disease can be a problem for a long time without you really knowing about it. Schedule those biannual checkups. Get your teeth cleaned and your mouth examined. If there is an issue, your dentist will have caught it early, and you can overcome it before it becomes more serious.
Avoid Gum Disease Through Regular Dental Care
Preventing gum disease begins at home with regular brushing, flossing, and self-examinations. You should also visit your dentist every six months for a cleaning and exam, no matter how great your teeth and gums may look and feel. Regular checkups are the best way to catch gum disease early and treat it before it becomes a more serious condition. You can schedule your checkup with Jeffrey D. Clark, DDS, today by calling Scottsdale Dental Excellence at 480 585 1853.