If you are like most people, you don’t give a whole lot of thought to your gums. After all, teeth steal the show, right? The truth is, though, that ignoring your gums could be something you come to regret. Researchers have found a distinct link between gum health and heart disease as well as other conditions. And the news isn’t good.
The Science Behind the Claims
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an estimated 46% of adults over 30 have some form of gum disease. In about 9% their gum disease is considered to be severe. The National Institute of dental and Craniofacial Research, under the US Department of Health and Human Services, published a report Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General that showed how certain medical conditions like HIV and organ transplants, as well as certain medications like steroids could put those people at a higher risk for oral health issues.
Another study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, Oral Health Needs Among Adults in the United States with Chronic Diseases, showed that chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, stroke, obesity, and other conditions could also increase a person’s risk for oral health issues.
Recent studies, like Oral Health and Coronary Heart Disease, published on BioMed Central in 2016, shows that the link between gum health and heart disease does not go one way, but that poor oral health can actually increase a person’s risk for heart disease. A study in China found a potential link between poor oral health and dementia/Alzheimer’s.
Gum Disease: How Bad is Bad?
No one just wakes up one day and has serious gum disease. It is a gradual process that begins with gingivitis and progresses to periodontitis over time. In other words, the gums become inflamed, red, and sometimes sore. They may bleed easily. This is gingivitis and the effects can be reversed. Flossing and brushing daily and getting regular dental cleanings and check ups can remedy the condition with no lasting effects – as long as it is caught early and addressed immediately.
Once gingivitis advances to periodontitis, it gets a lot more complicated. This advanced stage of gum disease is very serious and can cause permanent damage to the gums, teeth, and even bone and ligaments in the mouth. At the beginning, the gums start to pull away from the teeth. Small pockets form in these voids and become a haven for harmful bacteria. The area around the tooth breaks down, causing it to loosen and eventually fall our or require extraction if not treated.
The Gum’s Role in Your Overall Health
Gum disease, especially at its advanced stages, becomes a doorway for inflammation to enter and spread through the entire body. It is infection in the mouth and it can lead to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and stroke. In pregnant women, periodontitis can cause low birth weight, pre-term labor, and premature births. Trying to ignore gum disease, hoping that it will go away on its own is seriously risking your health.
Even mild gum disease can cause pain when you brush your teeth, drink, or chew your food, causing you to avoid doing these things. The teeth are an important part of your digestive system, so when you have missing teeth, that part of it cannot function as it should. You can’t chew as effectively and that an impact the rest of your digestion, including how your body absorbs the nutrients from your food. So not only do you have infection and inflammation inside your body, you also have the secondary issue of a compromised digestive system and nutrient deficiencies.
Symptoms of Gum Disease
When most people hear “inflammation,” they think of pain. However, there is usually no pain associated with the early stages of gingivitis. Instead of looking for pain as a disease marker, look for the other, more subtle signs and see your dentist regularly.
Signs and symptoms of gum disease include:
- Red or swollen gums
- Chronic halitosis (bad breath)
- Painful chewing (occasional)
- Tender gums
- Areas of the gums that look like they are pulling away from the teeth
- Sensitive teeth
- Gums that bleed easily
- Loose teeth
Treatment for Gum Disease
The treatment for gum disease is determined by advanced it is. The overarching goal, regardless of the stage, is to reduce inflammation, get control of the infection, and prevent any more damage from occurring. Even milder cases should be seen by a dentist. Some forms of oral cancer can have symptoms that closely resemble gum disease.
Milder cases of gum disease can be treated with a special deep cleaning method known as scaling and root planning. It removes the plaque that is causing the inflammation and infection from the tooth root and around the gum line.
Antibiotics may sometimes be given, or antimicrobial medication. These work on the gum pockets, reducing their size while addressing the infection. They may be administered via pills, mouth rinse, gel, or the dentist may place small, round particles in the pockets to heal them directly.
In very advanced gum disease, or if the gums do not respond to the less aggressive treatment, your dentist may elect to perform surgery to correct the problem. Flap surgery allows the dentist to go below the gum tissue to clean. The gums are cut, moved aside, then sutured back in place after the procedure is finished. Bone or gum graft surgery is more complex and treats very advanced cases of periodontitis. Bone or tissue from another area in your mouth are grafted into the damaged area of the jaw or gums.
6 Steps to Better Oral Health
The best way to treat gum disease is to be proactive and get good, healthy habits so that you can prevent it. Here are our 6 steps to better oral health:
- Brush your teeth twice a day and after meals
- Floss at least once a day
- Get regular dental check ups
- Get regular dental cleanings as recommended by your doctor
- Inspect your gums each time you brush and if you see a problem, call your dentist
- Maintain a healthy, fresh diet and stay hydrated
At Weaver, Reckner & Reinhart, we take your health very seriously and understand that a healthy mouth means a healthy body. If you have noticed any signs of gum disease, please make an appointment to get it checked out as soon as possible. We offer full service dental care, so whether you need a root canal, a cleaning, or just about anything else in between, we’re here for you. Call our office today for a healthier, happier smile.