What is Gum Disease?
To understand its relationship with physical health and how to prevent gum disease, we’ll explore the basics of what you should know.
Your mouth plays host to numerous forms of bacteria. A combination of bacteria, mucus and minute food particles leave a residue called plaque on the teeth. Eventually, if left on the teeth, plaque hardens and forms a layer of tartar that dentists only can remove. The bacteria that results in plaque and tartar become increasingly harmful over time. Gum disease starts here and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), affects approximately 50 percent of American adults.
The first and mildest form of periodontal disease, the term for gum disease, to appear is gingivitis. Gingivitis, while presenting little or no pain and discomfort, leaves gums swollen, puffy and irritated. Tenderness and a receding gum line may or may not occur, but gums frequently change color from pink to red and often bleed slightly when you brush and floss.
Unless treated, gingivitis turns into periodontitis.
In periodontitis, the gums suffer inflammation and pull away from the teeth. Infection-filled pockets resulting from gum recession begin a battle between a body’s immune system and the toxins from the now harmful bacterial growth. Unfortunately, the bones and connective tissue that hold teeth in place become a casualty: The toxins and the body’s response to the toxins both break down the bones and tissue. When this occurs, teeth lose their support system and, unless treatment is sought, loose teeth and subsequent extraction may be required.
Swollen, tender to the touch and bright red or purple gums signify periodontitis. Additionally, periodontitis symptoms include teeth that appear longer due to receding gums, gaps between teeth and pus at the gum line. If you have periodontitis, you probably have very bad breath and a bad taste in your mouth.
Gum Disease and Health Problems
Researchers are quick to point out that although links between gum disease and certain health problems definitely exist, no conclusive evidence exists regarding cause. Determining whether health problems arise because of periodontal disease or another reason lies behind both issues’ development requires further investigation. Meanwhile, although evidence does not prove gum disease does cause other health problems, evidence also does not prove it exempt as the cause. Oral health aside, this uncertainty deems treating and preventing gum disease a wise precaution against the following conditions.
The relationship between unhealthy gums and heart disease carries much debate. A good amount of research suggests that the bacteria that cause gingivitis and periodontitis enters the blood stream through the gums and travels to the cardiovascular system. It is suggested that the bacteria impacts coronary artery disease and, possibly, the formation of blood clots, among other cardiovascular diseases.
Research presented at the International Association for Dental Research General Session and Exhibition showed startling numbers regarding the correlation between periodontal disease and stroke. The research, gathered from a study of non-fatal stroke patients, indicates gum disease has twice as much impact than does diabetes in contributing to strokes. Strokes provide another example of a definite link between oral and physical health, but, again, the exact nature of the link requires further research.
Gum disease and diabetes have a two-fold relationship. An increased susceptibility to infections leaves diabetics likely to develop gum disease, and gum disease, once developed, plays havoc with the regulation of blood sugar. When blood sugar rises, the door opens for diabetes-based complications.
Low Birth Weight
The exact nature and cause are undetermined, but studies show that women with gingivitis or periodontitis have a higher incidence of delivering premature and low birth-weight babies than do women without gum disease. This impacts babies and not solely mothers, so pregnant women and women trying to conceive are urged to have their dental health evaluated.
Brace yourselves, men: Researchers in India, Israel, Taiwan and Turkey have found links between gum disease and erectile dysfunction. The link, which led to reports published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine and the Journal of Periodontology, was discovered during a study of men with erectile dysfunction. Gum disease was present in four out of five cases of men with severe ED and in two out of five cases of men with mild ED. Exactly how periodontal disease affects the inability to maintain an erection remains unknown, but Turkish researchers found that erectile function improved somewhat in men who treated their gum disease.
It cannot be stressed enough that no conclusive evidence points to gingivitis or periodontitis as definite causes of the mentioned health concerns. However, the existence of the links makes maintaining oral health a wise precautionary measure.
Preventing gingivitis and periodontitis involves three easy steps.
1) Using fluoride toothpaste, brush your teeth twice each day; effective brushing includes changing to a new toothbrush every three months.
2) Thoroughly and regularly floss between teeth.
3) Visit a dentist for a cleaning twice per year.
Gingivitis requires only mild treatment in the form of an in-depth cleaning to remove all plaque and tartar build up followed by a daily brushing and flossing regimen. Your dentist may suggest also an antiseptic mouthwash.
Periodontitis, depending on its severity, requires more in-depth dental work. Mild cases may be treated with scaling, which involves scraping the surface of teeth, and root planing, which smooths rough spots on the root in which bacteria accumulate, in addition to cleaning. Regular brushing and flossing continue the dentist’s treatment of gum disease.
Advanced, serious periodontitis may require surgical treatment. Treatment often includes flap surgery, soft tissue grafts, bone grafting and guided tissue regeneration.
As evidenced, preventative oral hygiene – brushing, flossing and visiting a dentist – helps you avoid more intense treatment once gum disease has developed, avoid loose and removed teeth and escape bad breath. It also may help you avoid some of the health concerns associated with gum disease, although evidence does not yet conclusively prove this. Following the adage promoting an ounce of prevention, oral maintenance offers no harm and may prove beneficial beyond the mouth.