Your oral health is vitally important to your overall health and well-being. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost half of the Americans aged 30 or older suffer from gum disease (periodontal disease). Important risk factors for periodontal disease include inherited or genetic susceptibility, smoking, lack of dental cleaning (at the dentist), lack of adequate home care, age, diet, health history, gender (higher in men than women), and use of certain medications.
When plaque (a film-like substance composed of bacteria, saliva, food debris, and dead cells) and tartar (calcified plaque) build up between the teeth and gums, they can spread to the bone under the teeth and cause gum inflammation. Periodontal disease is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the gum tissue and bones supporting the teeth. The diagnosis and classification of the severity is usually done with X-rays, which allows your medical team to measure the depth of pockets in the gums and determine the severity of your disease.
In its early stage, gum disease is called gingivitis. With this, the gums become swollen and red due to inflammation. The severe form of gum disease is called periodontitis. Periodontitis can cause gums to swell and bleed, and cause bad breath. The gums pull away from the teeth and the supporting gum tissues are destroyed. Bone can be lost, chewing becomes painful, and teeth can loosen and eventually fall out.
Gingivitis may be reversed with good oral hygiene (daily brushing and flossing). However, periodontitis requires professional care. Treatment may include repeated professional cleanings, antibiotics, dental surgery and/or tooth removal. Dentists or periodontists may access the tooth below the gum line to remove plaque and tartar and correct bone defects, if needed.
How does gum disease lead to other chronic diseases?
If left untreated, periodontal disease has been associated with other chronic inflammatory diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. It is believed that inflammation may be the basis for the link between these systemic diseases.
According to an article published in the journal Stroke last month, periodontal disease is associated with cardiovascular disease and may increase your risk of ischemic stroke (particularly cardio-embolic and thrombotic strokes). These strokes occlude brain blood vessels and cause damage to brain tissue. The study found that risk of stroke increased with the severity of periodontal disease, and regular dental care was linked to a 50% reduction in risk of stroke, compared to not seeing a dentist regularly.
If you haven’t planned your dental visits for this year, today may be a good time to do it. Now you are aware - a healthy mouth may help you to have a healthy life!
All my best,
Karen Alexander, BNSD, MSCN