For a long time, the health of our mouths has been seen as separate to our general health. However, recent studies have proven that this is no longer the case. There has now been an association made between gum health and health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and pre-term birth.
What is gum disease? Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is caused by bacteria found in plaque and tartar. Plaque is the soft, white substance that forms on teeth which is easily brushed and flossed away. Tartar is calcified plaque, which requires removal by your dental hygienist.
Because plaque and tartar are made up of bacteria, the body’s immune system tries to destroy it and as a result there is an inflammatory response. As you will see in this article, inflammation anywhere in the body can cause many problems.
Gum disease can be broken down into two categories:
gingivitis and periodontitis
Gingivitis – This is the early stage of gum disease and is reversible.
Periodontitis – Untreated gingivitis can progress onto this next stage of gum disease which cannot be cured, only treated. It is a chronic inflammatory response where the body breaks down the bone and tissue in the infected area of the mouth which can result in bone and tooth loss.
What are the symptoms of gum disease? Gum
disease is usually painless and many people will not know they are suffering
from it. Some of the signs of gum disease include:
• Bleeding, swollen gums
• Bad breath
• Gums receding or being “long in the tooth” which may also cause tooth sensitivity
• Teeth moving or drifting
• Dentures not fitting as well as they used to
• Abscessed teeth
• Tooth loss
If you have one or more of these symptoms, you should see your dental professional immediately as you could have a serious gumproblem which may cause or be a warning sign of potential life threatening problems.
Heart disease and stroke. Studies have shown that people with gum disease are twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease. The theory is that the bacteria that cause gum disease can make their way into the blood stream. This bacteria can cause damage to the lining inside blood vessels, promoting the formation of clots which can lead to heart attack. People who have an existing heart condition should make sure they have their gum health checked regularly as gum disease can make their condition worse.
Diabetes. Diabetics are more prone to contracting infections due to a lowered immune system. As a result, they will have a higher incidence of gum disease. In fact, gum disease is considered a complication of diabetes.
Premature birth weight. An association has been made between preterm babies – before 37 weeks of gestation – and mothers who have gum disease. Studies have shown these mothers are 7 times more likely to deliver a premature or low-birth-weight baby than mothers who do not have gum disease. Mothers with high amounts of bacteria are also likely to pass this onto their babies. Other studies have found a link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and even cancer.
Treatment for gum disease. To prevent gum problems it is very important to reduce inflammation in your mouth by removing the cause of the inflammation. This means effectively brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing once per day and seeing your dental hygienist at least twice a year. Your hygienist will clean above and below the gum line to remove all plaque and tartar and will show you how to improve your home cleaning techniques to improve your overall dental health. If your gum condition is severe, the dentist and hygienist may recommend you see a periodontist who specialises in gum disease and treatment.
The mouth is a source of infection, so let’s work together to control the infection in your mouth.