Gum Disease and Your Health

How do healthy gums become diseased?

The gums of a normal healthy tooth reach up snugly onto the enamel of the tooth, protecting the roots and bone structure. Periodontal disease damages the gums and reduces their ability to protect vulnerable areas. It is the single most common cause of tooth loss in adults.

Gum disease is caused by plaque, a colorless film of bacteria that forms on the teeth. Plaque mixes with sugars and starches in the diet to form acids in the mouth, irritating the gums and causing them to become red, tender and swollen. It causes gums to bleed easily. Without daily removal, plaque hardens to form calculus (tartar) around the teeth. This process causes the gums to pull away from the teeth creating pockets that become filled with plaque. These pockets may become deeper over time, destroying the bone structure that supports the teeth, thus resulting in tooth loss.
Signs of gum disease include:
• Gums that bleed when you brush or floss your teeth
• Red, swollen or tender gums
• Gums that recede or gums that shrink away from your teeth Pus between your teeth
• Pain when chewing
• Calculus or tartar build-up Changes in bite Loose teeth
• Bad breath or chronic bad taste
• Teeth sensitivity to hot and cold

(As gum disease progresses, the buildup of plaque begins to damage gum tissue and can play a role in other systemic diseases.)

Making the Connection: Gum Disease and Your Health

We also know from recent studies that an estimated 75 percent of American adults over the age of 35 have some form of periodontal disease. However, when surveyed, eight out of ten people believed they did not have periodontal disease.
Until its advanced stage, periodontal disease is usually painless. Yet up to 90 percent of all systemic diseases including kidney disease, diabetes, and heart disease have links to oral health. Because the mouth is the beginning of the digestive system, it plays a significant role in proper digestion. Improper digestion may cause a variety of digestive and intestinal difficulties. Researchers tell us that if you neglect or have inadequate oral health care, it can contribute to the development of heart disease and increase your risk of stroke.
(Brush at least twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush).

Gum Disease and Your Heart

If you have periodontal disease, you may be more at risk for cardiovascular disease. If you have been diagnosed with periodontal disease, you have nearly twice the risk of having a fatal heart attack than others.
It has been known for some time that bacteria may affect the heart. New evidence suggests that people with periodontal disease are at risk for bacterial endocarditis, an infection of the heart lining or heart valves. It is caused when certain bacteria from inflamed gums flow through the bloodstream and attach to abnormal or damaged heart tissue. Premedication prior to dental treatment may be necessary to prevent bacterial endocarditis. There is also growing evidence that blood clots contribute to clogged arteries and the build-up of fatty deposits inside heart arteries is also linked to periodontal bacteria.

Gum Disease and Diabetes

For years we’ve known that people with diabetes are more prone to gum disease than others. New research suggests that people with diabetes who also have periodontal disease may have more difficulty controlling their blood sugar. For diabetic patients with severe cases of periodontal disease, blood sugar is increased. If you are a diabetic, that places you at increased risk for diabetic complications. Keeping your periodontal disease under control may help control your diabetes, too.

Gum Disease and Respiratory Disease

If you have periodontal disease, you may be at increased risk for respiratory disease. Infections in the mouth, like gum disease, are associated with a high risk of respiratory infection. If you smoke, or are elderly, or have other health problems that suppress the immune system, your risk of respiratory disease is higher. Bronchitis, pneumonia, emphysema and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary disease are some of the respiratory infections that may result from infected gums.

Gum Disease and Women

Hormonal changes throughout a woman’s life can affect many tissues in the body, including gum tissue. These changes may place women at greater risk for periodontal disease and call for you to take special care of your oral health.
• Puberty: Young women, as they mature, may experience menstruation gingivitis during puberty. Bleeding gums, swollen gums, or mouth sores are common symptoms.
• Child-bearing years: For women who take oral contraceptives, or who become pregnant, gingivitis is of increased concern. New evidence confirms that periodontal disease is an infection that poses a risk to the health of a baby. Pregnant women who have periodontal disease may be seven times more likely to have a pre-term, low- birth weight baby.
• Menopause: During menopause, when hormone levels diminish, women may experience pain, burning, or “dry” mouth. Treatment for these symptoms are available from your dentist.

Talk to Your Dentist

Talk to us if you have concerns about the connection between gum disease and your overall health. If you have heart disease, diabetes, or respiratory disease.. .or if you are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, let us know. Tell us if you have a family member with a diagnosis of periodontal disease. It is possible for the bacteria that cause periodontal disease to be contracted through close contact among families. We’ll take special care with your oral health needs and if necessary, refer you to a periodontist who specializes in gum disease.

Clean and Healthy

Maintaining clean, healthy teeth and gums is another key to preventing related health problems. It is important to consistently follow a program of oral health. Be sure you:
• Use a toothbrush with soft, rounded bristles
• Change your toothbrush every three to four months
• Replace your toothbrush after an illness
• Brush at least twice a day
• Use a toothpaste with fluoride
• Floss once every day
• Visit your dentist regularly
• Have a periodontal check-up
• Have oral cancer screenings
• Avoid tobacco products
• Avoid excessive alcohol use

A Final Word

Talk to your physician about any health conditions that could impact your oral health. Today, more than ever, your physician and your dentist are working together as an integrated health care team. Did you know that if you have gum disease, you may be at increased risk for other conditions that affect your general health? With proper care, gum disease or periodontal disease can be prevented and treated.

(Good oral hygiene and regular professional care are the keys to preventing periodontal disease. Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General of the United States was recently released. Its most important news is an understanding of the vital relationship between oral health and general health at all stages and ages of our lives.) (The gums of a normal, healthy tooth reach up snugly into the enamel of the tooth, protecting the roots and bone structure.)

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