February is Gum Disease Awareness Month, making it the perfect opportunity to focus on gum health and discuss why it is so important. When you come to our dental office for an exam, we not only look at your teeth. We thoroughly examine your gums as well, looking for any sign of redness, swelling, tenderness, or pulling away from the teeth.
Gum disease, not cavities, is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults. And it’s alarmingly common. The Centers for Disease Control says that half of Americans over the age of 30 have some form of periodontal disease. For Americans over the age of 65, that percentage leaps to 70 percent. This is a widespread problem. And, as you’ll read later on in this post, problems with your gums have serious consequences on your oral and overall health.
It Begins with Bacteria
Your mouth is filled with bacteria. There is no way to get rid of it all, and you wouldn’t want to necessarily. But sometimes, this bacteria begins to do harm. It creates acids that eat away at your tooth enamel and cause cavities. And it can multiply and wreck havoc in your gum tissue and jawbone.
Periodontal disease is a bacterial infection of your gums and/or surrounding bone. It is divided into two stages. The early stage is called gingivitis. If diagnosed at this point, treatment is as simple as good brushing and flossing at home combined with regular dental cleanings. You may experience swollen, tender gums or bleeding at this point, but gingivitis may begin doing its damage silently. So even if you haven’t noticed any issues, it’s important to visit us every six months for a checkup.
If your gingivitis is left untreated, it won’t go away. It will get worse and progress into periodontitis. At this point, symptoms may be much more serious. They include:
- Swollen, tender, and discolored gums
- Gums that bleed when you brush, floss, or eat
- Gums that recede from your teeth, forming pockets
- Teeth that seem to have become longer
- Pus around the gumline
- Bad breath that won’t go away
- Pain while chewing
- A change in your bite, or how your upper and lower teeth fit together
- Loosening teeth
Your Health Is at Stake
As discussed earlier, untreated periodontitis puts you at risk for losing your teeth. This is far from the most serious consequence, however. Bacteria from your gums can travel beyond your mouth and cause a deadly condition called sepsis. Research is also shedding light on the relationship between periodontal disease and various other systemic conditions.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. While there is no clear cause-and-effect relationship known yet, evidence shows that periodontitis may increase your chances of developing heart disease or worsen existing cardiovascular issues.
The link appears to be inflammation. Swollen, or hardened, arteries decrease blood flow to the heart, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Likewise, swollen gums are a hallmark of periodontal disease. When infection develops below the gumline, that bacteria may travel through the body including toward the heart.
People with diabetes and gum problems find themselves in an unfortunate cycle. Diabetes has long been considered one of the leading risk factors for periodontal disease. And diabetics tend to lose more teeth from it than non-diabetics.
And once people with diabetes develop periodontal disease, they may find their blood sugar more difficult to control. This puts them at a higher risk for diabetic complications.
Prevention and Treatment at Premier Dental
Because gum problems often arise without apparent symptoms, be sure to come in for twice-yearly cleanings and exams. If periodontal disease does take hold in your mouth, we can help you reverse it.
For gingivitis, a good professional cleaning and better home care may do the trick. For more advanced disease, we may suggest scaling and root planing. This procedure, done under local anesthesia, is a deep-cleaning technique that removes plaque below the gumline. We will also smooth your tooth roots, making it more difficult for bacteria to attach.
If you believe you may have gum disease, or you are due for a cleaning and exam, schedule your next checkup at Premier Dental of Bordentown, NJ. You may call our office at 609-949-5115 or fill out and submit our online contact form.