Over 70% of adult Americans have some form of periodontal disease (gum disease), an infection of the gums caused by bacteria. Left untreated, the infection may gradually destroy the bone that supports teeth and result in tooth loss.
Periodontal disease is generally painless, and most people are unaware that they have it until a dental examination reveals the condition.
Periodontal disease is mainly caused by the bacteria found in dental plaque. These bacteria produce toxins or poisons that can irritate the gums. Prolonged irritation may cause the gums to separate from the teeth, creating “pockets” of space between tooth and gum tissue where bacteria thrive. As the disease progresses, the pockets deepen. Eventually, the disease may cause a tooth’s entire support structure to become so weak that the tooth falls out or has to be removed.
Periodontal disease is the number one cause of tooth loss in adults. Gum disease cannot be cured, but it can be controlled. Professional intervention is necessary to prevent the disease from causing ongoing deterioration.
New advancements have changed the outlook for patients with gum disease. Where tooth loss was once inevitable, today many patients are keeping their teeth for a lifetime.By seeking professional help in a timely manner and maintaining a good home care regimen, patients can achieve the best dental health possible.
Prevention of Gum Disease
The best way to prevent periodontal disease is with daily brushing and flossing as well as regular professional examinations and cleanings. Unfortunately, even with the most diligent home care, people can still develop some form of periodontal disease. Once the disease starts, professional intervention is necessary to control its progress.
Stages of Gum Disease
Phase One - Gingivitis. During this stage, gums may bleed during brushing or appear red and/or swollen.
Phase Two - Early Periodontitis. Bleeding, puffiness and inflammation become more pronounced, and gums may begin to develop pockets of 3 to 4 millimeters in depth. X-rays may reveal a slight loss of bone.
Phase Three - Moderate Periodontitis. Pockets between teeth and gum may range from 4 to 6 millimeters in depth. X-rays reveal bone loss.
Phase Four - Advanced Periodontitis. Pockets are now in excess of 6 millimeters deep, and x-rays show severe bone loss. Teeth may become mobile or loose.
Periodontal Disease Risk Factors
Periodontal disease is an infection caused by certain species of bacteria. The presence of these bacteria does not automatically mean that someone will develop the disease. Other factors that contribute to disease development include:
Genetics - Heredity can be a risk factor in about 50% of patients with periodontal disease.
Smoking - Smoking is the #1 behavioral risk factor in periodontal disease.
Medical conditions - Diabetes is well known to increase susceptibility by impairing the immune system and decreasing production of collagen and bone.
Medications - Many medications can have harmful effects on oral health. These include certain heart and anti-seizure medications.
Stress - Emotional stress may increase risk by depressing the immune system, making it more likely for a bacterial infection to gain a foothold.
Others - Advancing age and poor nutrition can also contribute to periodontal disease. Changes in the levels of female hormones can make women more susceptible at various phases of their lives.
Links Between Gum Disease and Other Diseases
Research has linked periodontal disease to other illnesses. While researchers are still unravelling cause and effect, they theorize that oral bacteria enters the bloodstream and travels through the body, causing problems in other areas. Here are some of the findings thus far.
Link Between Gum Disease and Heart Disease - Researchers found that men suffering from advanced periodontal disease were 4 1/2 times more likely to have coronary artery disease.
Link Between Gum Disease and Stroke - A study showed that 70% of the fatty deposits found in the carotid arteries of stroke sufferers contained bacteria — 40% of which came from the mouth.
Link Between Gum Disease and Low birth-weight babies - Research has found that women with untreated periodontal disease had a much greater incidence of low birth-weight babies.
Link Between Gum Disease and Diabetes - While we’ve long known that diabetics were at increased risk of periodontal disease, new studies have shown that periodontal disease makes it much harder for diabetics to control blood glucose levels.
Link Between Gum Disease and Respiratory Disease - Dental plaque buildup creates a dangerous source of bacteria that can be inhaled into the lungs. Inhaling bacteria from the mouth and throat can lead to pneumonia.