Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, affects millions of Americans. Many do not know they have gum disease – they shrug off symptoms such as puffy gums, or don’t have any symptoms at all. Thus, even though gum disease is one of the most common diseases in America, most patients don’t realize the consequences of untreated gum disease, or what their treatment options are.
But what causes gum disease and who is at risk, and most importantly, what can we do about preventing and treating it?
You have a mouth full of risk. Gum disease starts with plaque. So it’s easy to see that the number one cause of gum disease is poor dental hygiene. Neglecting to brush and floss every day can allow plaque to build up and start the inflammation of the gingiva, or the gum formed around the base of your teeth.
Furthermore, teeth with cracks and crevices can trap food and encourage plaque and bacteria growth. Grinding your teeth or having a bite that isn’t aligned can cause irritation and invisible swelling of the tiny ligaments around the teeth, also leading to dental infections. Patients with impacted wisdom teeth are also at risk but often experience no symptoms. Subsequently, dental professionals agree that preteens, teens and young adults should be examined for signs of gum disease.
Risky behavior doesn’t help. Some personal behaviors can increase your risk of developing periodontitis and other forms of gum disease. Smoking increases your risks for gum disease significantly, as do the other forms of tobacco use. Why? Smoking reduces the strength of your immune system. When your immune system is compromised, it can’t fight off bacteria as effectively. Two other lifestyle choices that increase your risk of gum disease include eating an unhealthy diet and participating in substance abuse.
Gum Disease Risk Factors You Can Control:
Improperly fitting or poor dental work can also cause periodontal disease. A dental restoration that doesn’t fit, poorly sealed fillings and crowns, or an implant that isn’t functioning can trap food and encourage bacteria growth.
Gum disease germs can also be contagious. They infect others through saliva. Dental infections can also be passed through toothbrushes, eating utensils, straws or anything that touches saliva! And yes, kissing can spread gum disease and dental infections.
Gum Disease Risk Factors You Can’t Control:
Gum disease appears in greater numbers among the poor. In particular, periodontal disease affects poor children and elderly people as well as racial minorities. Those with fewer financial resources for dental visits show the greatest amounts of oral bacteria. Approximately 44 million Americans live without medical insurance; 110 million have no dental insurance.
Hormonal changes, especially women who are pregnant or beginning menopause
The natural aging process: the CDC Discovered that 70% of seniors over the age of 65 have moderate to advanced periodontal disease.
A family history of gum disease
Side effects of medication or certain medical treatments, such as chemotherapy
Diseases which decrease your immunity like HIV/AIDS or leukemia
Do you have Gum Disease?
Unfortunately, most patients don’t realize they are infected with gum disease. Also, it doesn’t always show the symptoms until the advanced stages. However, there are some clues that the silent killer leaves behind.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are your gums red or puffy?
- Do your gums bleed when you brush or floss?
- Are any teeth loose?
- Has anyone told you that you have bad breath?
- Do you wake up with a bad taste in your mouth? Blood on your pillow?
There are many risk factors for the disease. A complete tooth and gum exam by your dental care professional will tell if any infection is present.
Gum disease affects millions of Americans, many of whom aren’t even aware they have it. Be sure to see your dental professional to make sure you aren’t one of them.
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Sources “Periodontal Gum Disease FAQ”, American Dental Association:
- http://www.dent.ucla.edu/bio/bio.asp?id=277 21-00-026 – Rev. A 10/23/09