February isn’t just about the kids and National Children’s Dental Health Month, it’s also Gum Disease Awareness Month. Gum disease is a serious oral health condition that can have a negative impact on your complete health. Also known as periodontal disease, gum disease is a severe infection in the tissues and bone that surround your teeth. It is a global problem that will impact the majority of adults at some point in their lives.
While gum disease may be considered solely a dental issue, more and more studies have shown that the implications extend beyond the mouth. Read on to learn more about this pressing challenge — and what you can do to prevent it!
What causes gum disease?
Gum disease is typically caused by poor brushing and flossing habits (we’ll talk about this further down). The foods and drinks that we consume daily contribute to the build-up of plaque on our teeth. Plaque is essentially a film of bacteria that sticks to your teeth above and below your gum line. If you remove the plaque daily with adequate bruising and flossing and visit your dentist for regular cleanings, you can generally win the battle against destructive bacteria. Left to fester, however, the bacteria begin to irritate the gums. The early phase of gum disease is called gingivitis. Patients experience swelling and irritation at this phase, as well as bleeding gums and potential soreness.
When the plaque begins to harden, it turns into tartar (calculus), creating a hard layer of bacteria that is nearly impossible to remove without the care of a dental professional. Left untreated, these bacteria-laden substances can begin to cause severe inflammation of the gums, leading to a more serious infection that can travel into the bone surrounding your teeth and into other areas of the body.
Some common signs of gum disease are:
- Bad breath
- Bleeding gums
- Receding gums
- Loose teeth
- Tooth decay
- Tooth loss
- Gum recession
- Pus along the gum line
It is worth noting that one of the most concerning facts about gum disease is that many people may never feel that they have it or show outward signs. Some infections are not easily visible to the untrained eye. That is one reason that dentists stress the importance of regular visits.
What is the Connection Between Gum Disease and Complete Health?
Gum disease is a serious issue because it has an impact on our complete health. Cosmetically speaking, gum disease can wreak havoc on your smile. Gum disease can cause unsightly decay, tooth loss, gum recession, and swelling.
Physically, the problems caused by gum disease go far beyond your mouth and can be even more serious.
- Patients with gum disease are twice as likely to have heart disease.
- According to the March of Dimes, studies have shown a link between gum disease and premature birth.
- For patients with gum disease, the risk of pancreatic and kidney cancer is increased by 63%.
- A 2020 article by the National Institute on Aging notes that: “Recent analysis led by NIA scientists suggests that bacteria that cause gum disease are also associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, especially vascular dementia.”
“Recent analysis led by NIA scientists suggests that bacteria that cause gum disease are also associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, especially vascular dementia.”
Gum disease is also linked to:
- Cancer (oral, esophageal, lung, colorectal, and breast cancer)
- Breathing issues/respiratory disease
Gum disease is extremely common in adults over the age of 35. The Institute for Advanced Laser Dentistry reports that as much as 85% of adults have some level of gum disease at any given time. The condition is more prevalent in adults over 60. To stave off these potential complications, prevention is of utmost importance.
How can I prevent gum disease?
Brush and floss daily: As we touched on in the section above, the easiest way to prevent gum disease is through regular brushing and flossing. Bruising your teeth at least twice per day with fluoride toothpaste removes the film of plaque that builds up as we eat and drink throughout the day. Flossing removes plaque from the area of your teeth below the gum line that brushing cannot reach.
Visit your dentist: Visiting the dentist for regular check-ups and cleanings is also an important step in the fight against gum disease. Even the best brushers and flossers can’t get to every crevice. Your dental hygienist has specialized tools and lighting (not to mention a much easier reach) to get deep down into your gum pockets and all the other nooks and crannies in your mouth to remove plaque and tartar build-up. They can also alert you to issues while they are still easily manageable. For example, your dentist may prescribe a specialty mouthwash for gingivitis or recommend a high-strength toothpaste for porous teeth. Your yearly visit includes X-rays that can detect deeper issues within your teeth and help you resolve them before they have a drastic impact on your oral health.
Cut back on sugar: This is one of the hardest steps for many people and it’s not surprising. Everything seems to have sugar in some form. It also happens to taste good. However, sugar is exceptionally bad for your teeth because it feeds the bacteria that can infect your gums. Those bacteria then excrete acids that attack your teeth and make them prone to decay and infection. While you don’t have to give up sugar completely, it is better for your teeth (and your body’s complete health) to consume in moderation or find alternatives.
I Already Have Gum Disease. Now What?
The good news is that if you already have gum disease, you still have options for treatment. Sierra Smiles offers non-surgical periodontal therapy that can help you halt and even reverse the damage caused by periodontal disease. Options such as laser therapy can tackle tough gum line issues.
Take-home therapies such as Perio Protect can allow patients to treat gum disease at home using a convenient tray system. The specialized solution neutralizes oral bacteria, in turn reducing tooth decay and gum irritation.
Help for Periodontal Disease
The important thing to remember is that your dentist can help you regain your healthy smile.
Gum disease cannot be ignored or treated as a purely cosmetic issue. As noted above, gum disease can lead to serious, lifelong complications that have a negative impact on your quality of life. If you are concerned about gum disease and its impact on your health, give us a call. We would love to help!