Periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, is caused when bacteria in plaque (a sticky, colorless film that forms in the mouth) builds up between the gums and teeth. The bacteria in this plaque produce toxins, or poisons, which constantly attack your gums and teeth. Unless plaque is removed, it hardens int o a rough, porous deposit called calculas, or tartar. Daily brushing and flossing will help to minimize the formation of calculas, but it won’t completely prevent it. No matter how careful you are in cleaning your teeth and gums, bacterial plaque can cause recurrence of gum disease from two to four months after your last professional cleaning.
If left untreated, this inflammation can cause the gums and supporting bone structure to deteriorate. This can lead to gum recession or even tooth loss. In addition, research has shown that gum disease may be associated with other diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, osteoporosis, and arthritis and joint disease.
Symptoms of Gum Disease
Periodontal disease is often silent, meaning symptoms (particularly pain) appear until disease is at an advanced stage. Hwever, you should still be on the look out for the signs and symptoms, which include:
Red, swollen, or tender gums, or other pain in your mouth. (Gums should never be red or swollen)
Bleeding while brushing, flossing, or eating hard food. (Gums should never bleed)
Gums that are receding or pulling away from the teeth, causing the teeth to look longer than before. (Loss of gum tissue around the tooth)
Loose or separating teeth. (Loss of bone or weakened periodontal ligament)
Pus between your gums and teeth. (A sign that infection is present)
Persistent bad breath. (Caused by bacteria in the mouth)
A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite. (Also caused by bone loss)
A change in the fit of partial dentures. (Also caused by bone loss)
Gum Disease Risk Factors
The main cause of periodontal/gum disease is plaque, but other factors affect the health of your gums.
Studies indicate that older people have the highest rates of periodontal disease. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that over 70% of Americans 65 and older have periodontitis.
Tobacco use is linked with many serious illnesses such as cancer, lung disease, and heart disease, as well as numerous other health problems. Tobacco users also are at increased risk for periodontal disease. Studies have shown that tobacco use may be one of the most significant risk factors in the development and progression of periodontal disease.
Research has indicated that some people may be genetically susceptible to gum disease. Despite aggressive oral care habits, these people may be more likely to develop periodontal disease. Identifying these people with a genetic test before they even show signs of the disease and getting them into early intervention treatment may help them to keep their teeth for a lifetime.
Stress is linked to many serious conditions such as hypertension, cancer, and numerous other health problems. Stress also is a risk factor for periodontal disease. Research demonstrates that stress can make it more difficult for the body to fight off infections, including periodontal disease.
Clenching or Grinding your teeth
Clenching or grinding your teeth can put excess force on the surrounding tissues of the teeth and could speed up the rate at which these periodontal tissues are destroyed.
Some drugs, such as oral contraceptives, anti-depressants, and certain heart medications, can affect your oral health. Just as you notify your pharmacist and other health care providers of all medications you are taking and any changes in your overall health, you should also inform your dental care provider.
Poor Nutrition and Obesity
A diet low in important nutrients can compromise the body’s immune system and make it harder for the body to fight off infection. Because Periodontal disease begins as an infection, poor nutrition can worsen the condition of your gums. In addition, research has shown that obesity may increase the risk of periodontal disease.
Other Systemic Diseases
Other systemic diseases that interfere with the body’s inflammatory system may worsen the condition of the gums.
Recent findings have strongly suggested that oral health may be indicative of systemic health. Currently, this gap between allopathic medicine and dental medicine is closing, due to significant findings supporting the association between periodontal disease and systemic conditions, such as:
If you have diabetes, you’re at an increased risk for developing gum disease, making it easier to contract infections. Gum disease and other oral infections have been shown to increase blood sugar and increased diabetic complications. Even mild cases of gum disease can increase blood sugar, contributing to longer periods of time when your body functions with a high blood sugar level, putting you and mouth infections at increased risk for the development and worsening of diabetic complications. In fact, gum disease is often considered a complication of diabetes.
Inflammation caused by gum disease can lead to hardened arteries, also called arteries, also called atherosclerosis. That’s a condition that makes it hard for blood to flow to your heart. It puts you at higher risk for heart attack and stroke. Gum disease can also exacerbate existing heart conditions.
Periodontal/Gum disease is a progressive condition which generally begins with a bacterial infection. The specific type of oral bacteria that causes periodontal disease can easily be drawn into the lower respiratory track. Once the bacteria colonize in the lungs, it can cause pneumonia and exacerbate serious conditions, such as COPD and emphysema. The bacteria also cause inflammation of the oral tissue, which can contribute to the inflammation of the lung lining, thus limiting the amount of air that can freely pass to and from the lungs.
In addition, people who experience chronic or persistent respiratory problems suffer from low immunity, challenging their body’s immune system.
Do you smoke?
Smoking is thought to be the leading cause of COPD and other chronic respiratory conditions. Tobacco use also damages the gingiva and compromises the good health of the oral cavity in its entirety. Tobacco use slows down the healing process, causes gum pockets to grow deeper and also accelerates attachment loss. Smoking is not the sole cause of periodontal gum disease, but it is certainly a co-factor to avoid.
If you have Rheumatoid Arthritis, you’re at increased risk of developing gum disease and are more likely to suffer from more severe symptoms. A protein is produced by gum disease bacteria, which causes antibodies to increase, attacking these proteins. This defensive mechanism in turn generates more pain and inflammation in the joints. The increase in antibodies is known to be a specific marker of rheumatoid arthritis.
Pregnant women with periodontal gum disease expose their unborn child to a variety of risks and possible complications. Pregnancy causes many hormonal changes in women, which increase the likelihood of developing periodontal disease such as gingivitis, or gum inflammation. These oral problems have been linked to preeclampsia, or low birth weight of the baby, as well as premature birth. Fortunately, halting the progression of periodontal gum disease through practicing high standard of oral hygiene and treating existing problems can help reduce the risk of periodontal disease related complications by up to 50%.
There are several factors that contribute to why periodontal disease may affect the mother and her unborn child. One is an increase in prostaglandin and mothers with advanced stages of periodontal disease, particularly periodontitis. Prostaglandin is a labor-inducing compound found in the oral bacteria associated with periodontitis. Because periodontitis increases the levels of prostaglandin, the mother may go into labor prematurely and deliver a baby with a low birth weight.
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