Most of us don’t associate the health of our mouths with the health of the rest of our bodies, but the associations are medically significant. Periodontal disease can increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and more.
What is Periodontal Disease
More commonly known as gum disease, periodontal disease is an infection of the tissues that hold your teeth in place. The infection is caused by poor oral hygiene habits, like not going to the dentist regularly or not brushing and flossing regularly.
If periodontal disease is left unchecked, it may lead to serious issues like bleeding gums, mouth sores, and even tooth loss.
There are many factors that may lead to an increased risk of periodontal disease, but the primary risk factor is smoking. Not only can smoking increase your risk for gum issues, but it can also actually make treatments less effective as well.
Other factors that may put you at an increased risk of gum disease are diabetes; medications that cause dry mouth, and even your genes. If you are in a higher risk category, talk to your dentist about how you can decrease your chances of developing periodontal disease in the future.
How it Starts
Our mouths are similar to our guts in terms of the bacteria that exist within. These bacteria in your mouth are called the oral microbiome. When the bacteria in your mouth are properly balanced, your gums are protected from the bacteria that may cause disease, but if the balance is upset, your risk for periodontal disease increases.
Bad bacteria in your mouth can cause inflammation, which can then destroy your soft tissue. When these bacteria begin to attack your tissue, the body releases white blood cells to eliminate the problem, but in doing so can also damage gum tissues.
The best way to fix the problem is to restore the balance of your oral microbiome. There are now dental treatments available to help eradicate the disease and restore the balance between good and bad bacteria in your mouth. Home oral hygiene is also a big part of ensuring the disease stays away once it is taken care of.
Dentists can diagnose periodontal disease through examinations of the gums to check for signs of inflammation. They do this by using a probe to measure pockets around teeth. Pockets in a healthy mouth will typically measure about one to three millimeters. Pockets larger than that are cause for concern.
You will also be asked about your medical history to help doctors decide whether or not you are at risk for periodontal disease. Since risk factors include smoking, medications, and some diseases, your doctor will likely want to keep a closer eye on your gum health if you fall into these categories.
Finally, x-rays will help your dentist to determine whether or not you are experiencing bone loss as a result of the disease. In severe cases, you may be referred to a periodontist for further treatment.
The type of treatment your doctor chooses to deal with gum disease depends on the severity of the disease and your risk factors. Your doctor will recommend keeping up a good at-home routine to help increase the effectiveness of your treatments. You may also be asked to change certain behaviors, like smoking.
One common treatment is deep cleaning, also referred to as scaling and root planing. Scaling refers to the scraping off of tartar from above and below the gum line. Root planing refers to the removal of rough spots on the tooth root where germs typically gather. This process helps to remove the bacteria that aid the disease to continue.
Sometimes a laser will be used to deep clean. The process results in less negative effects like bleeding and swelling when compared to other methods of cleaning.
Another method of treating periodontal disease is the use of medications. Although medication is typically used in conjunction with other methods of treatment, if the disease is caught early enough, medication and a great home routine may be all it takes to re-balance the bacteria in your mouth.
In severe cases, surgical treatments may be necessary. Flap surgery is one common surgical procedure used to remove tartar from deep pockets or reduce the size of the pocket to make it easier to keep clean.
The surgery involves lifting the gums away from teeth to remove the tartar, and then suturing them back in place so that they fit more tightly around the teeth. Occasionally this procedure will make the teeth appear longer.
Another surgical treatment commonly used by doctors is bone and tissue grafts. This is done to replace the bones and tissues lost to periodontitis. Sometimes these procedures are combined with other methods to help tissues to naturally regrow.
Beyond the Mouth
Periodontal disease is not only destructive for the bones and tissues in your mouth; it can also cause many issues in the rest of your body. Studies suggest that if you have gum disease, you are at a higher risk of developing heart disease or diabetes.
Women who suffer from gum disease are at risk for delivering premature babies or babies with significantly lower birth weights. More research is needed to determine the significance of the link between these other diseases and periodontal health, but so far the relationship is strong enough to be a concern.
Researchers do not yet see the relationship between gum disease and overall health as a cause-effect relationship but as an association. However, studies indicate that periodontal disease does increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
If you have diabetes, you are at an increased risk for periodontal disease, which in turn could cause your blood sugar to increase and your diabetes to be worsened.
Studies have shown that when the bacteria from your mouth can move into other parts of your body, they complicate existing conditions and can even cause a new one. Specifically, when bacteria get into your lungs they can cause pneumonia and other respiratory diseases. This risk is increased in those with periodontitis.
Finally, some researchers have suggested a link between gum disease and the likelihood of patients developing cancer. Kidney, pancreatic and blood cancers were the most significantly likely to develop in those suffering from periodontal disease.
With the significance of the diseases and issues that are associated with periodontal disease, it is important to get it treated as quickly as possible. It is even more important to take care of your gums in advance to protect them from the possibility of disease.
Preemptive Gum Care
The best way to take care of your gums is by keeping up with your regular oral hygiene schedule. Flossing is especially important for gum health because it helps to remove plaque and food particles where your toothbrush cannot. Plaque and food particles that aren’t removed will aid bad bacteria in causing disease.
You may also want to consider using a therapeutic mouthwash to help reduce plaque buildup and lower your risk of gingivitis. Rinsing with mouthwash helps to move food particles away from the mouth, and also helps to close up open wounds on your gums if any are present.
Seeing your dentist regularly is another important part of gum health. Your dentist will be able to detect the early signs of gum disease and treat them before they advance into something worse. In addition, the professionals can remove tartar buildup that you have missed before it starts to cause disease.
Finally, getting your bad habits in check is important to the health of your gum. If smoking is your vice, consider this one more reason to quit as soon as possible. Smoking is ultra-harmful to the gums. It aids in forming diseases and slows treatments from working properly. It’s your gum’s #1 enemy.
Gum Health is Whole Body Health
Taking care of your gums is as important as taking care of your teeth to prevent significant diseases both in the mouth and out. Although we tend to spend much more time caring about the health of our teeth, the gums and teeth are so heavily linked that any disease in one could cause major health issues in the other.
Knowing if you are at a higher risk of developing gum disease, and understanding how you can prevent this from happening is very important to your overall health. Keep up on your at-home oral care, visit the dentist regularly, and talk about any concerns that you might have regarding your risk factors.
Gums are one of the most important parts of your body to keep healthy because their health can directly affect almost every other organ, and can even decrease your chances of developing cancer and heart disease. So don’t forget to make gum health a priority today.