Launched in 2007, World Oral Health Day is now observed every year on March 20th. Its purpose is to raise awareness of the importance of excellent dental health, plus its implications on general health and well being.
In conjunction with this day and its important mission, we’d like to discuss gum disease, also known as periodontal disease. Gums tend to play second fiddle to the teeth in people’s consciousness about their oral health, but they are every bit just as important. In fact, more adult teeth are lost to gum problems than to cavities. And lots of research is showing that there is an intricate connection between the health of the gums and the state of the body overall.
And periodontal disease is something that needs to be on everyone’s radar because it is so widespread. The Centers for Disease Control states that almost half of Americans older than 30 have some form of it, as do an alarming 70% of Americans over the age of 65.
Your best bet for keeping your gums in excellent shape for the rest of your life is to practice meticulous oral hygiene — that’s brushing and flossing — and come in for professional cleanings and exams every six months.
If you live in or around Aberdeen, SD, call Aberdeen Smiles today to schedule a checkup. Dial (605) 277-9049.
Bacteria & Plaque Lead to Inflammation
When harmful bacteria accumulate in your mouth, due to lax oral hygiene or other reasons, they form a sticky film called plaque on your teeth. Eventually, plaque hardens into a substance called tartar, or calculus. The tartar, plaque, and bacteria may build up around and underneath the gumline, where they cause the tissue to become swollen, tender, and inflamed. This is how periodontal disease begins.
The disease is categorized into two types, but it’s really a continuum. Early-stage disease is called gingivitis. Ideally, you want to be diagnosed at this point, because treatment is relatively simple. If, however, your gingivitis is allowed to progress, it will turn into periodontitis, or late-stage disease. This is when you need to start worrying about much more serious consequences: tooth loss and effects on your overall health.
Your Mouth Is Not a Closed System
It may seem odd to you that the state of your gums can affect your heart and other parts of your body, but think about it like this: your mouth is not a closed system. It is not cut off from the rest of you, so why would there not be some sort of connection?
There’s lots of research going on exploring this very issue. And it’s showing pretty clearly that gum infection is associated with a number of serious systemic health problems.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. And studies have shown that people with periodontal disease are at a higher risk for developing it. Not only that, but gum infections may worsen existing heart disease. While scientists are still studying the connection, it seems that the bacteria that cause gum inflammation may escape into the bloodstream and trigger inflammation and hardening of the blood vessels, including those of the heart. People with periodontal disease also have thicker carotid arteries, which may restrict blood flow to the brain and lead to stroke.
It’s long been known that diabetes is one of the major risk factors for developing periodontal disease. This may be because diabetics are at a high risk for infections overall. The connection seems to go both ways, though. Gum issues appear to make it more difficult for diabetics to control their blood sugar.
Research has also linked periodontal problems with osteoporosis, respiratory issues, and even certain cancers. While the mechanisms of these connections are not all entirely clear yet, one thing is sure: the health of your gums affects the health of your body.
Minimizing Your Risk
Some gum disease risk factors — such as genetic susceptibility, age, illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis, hormonal changes, and medications — are beyond your control (though, of course, it’s helpful to at least be aware of them). But there are ways you can diminish your chances of developing gingivitis and periodontitis.
- Practice excellent oral hygiene. Have a consistent routine of brushing twice every day and flossing at least once per day, using proper technique.
- Visit us every six months for a cleaning and exam. Gingivitis often does not have symptoms in the early stages, and we will be able to detect problems before they are noticeable to you. And this enables us to get a head start on treatment.
- Don’t smoke or use chewing tobacco. Tobacco use is one of the leading risk factors for developing periodontal disease. And tobacco users’ disease tends to be resistant to treatment.
- Try to de-stress. Stress and anxiety may lower your ability to resist infection and lead to bruxism, which can injure your gums. While you can’t always eliminate stress, you can learn to manage it. Relaxation techniques may help.
- Eat a healthy diet. Poor nutrition may make you more susceptible to infections, including gingivitis. Be sure to get enough folic acid, which has been shown to promote gum health.
Prevention and Treatment
The best way to keep your gums disease free is to practice good oral hygiene and visit us regularly. In fact, even if you already have early-stage disease, your treatment may be just that. We can advise you on proper brushing and flossing at home and give you a good professional cleaning, which may be enough to bring your gums back to health.
If your disease has progressed beyond the early stages, we can remove your diseased gum tissue with our state-of-the-art dental laser. This treatment is comfortable, minimally invasive, and comes with little to no bleeding. There’s no anxiety-inducing drilling sounds and vibration.
If you think you may have gum disease, or you are due for a twice-yearly cleaning and exam, get in touch with Aberdeen Smiles right away to schedule an appointment. We have a convenient online contact form, or you can pick up the phone and call our Aberdeen, SD office at (605) 277-9049.