Facing the Facts About Periodontal Disease
What You Don’t Know Could Affect Your Health
Periodontal Disease! Say these words using a loud voice, and watch a room full of smiling people suddenly become tight-lipped!
Unfortunately, most people do not realize that treating periodontal disease at the onset can eliminate the problem of unsightly teeth and gums, offensive breath, and reduce the probability of losing your teeth. There is a catch… discovering periodontal problems when they are in an early stage.
Periodontal disease is a chronic bacterial infection that affects the gums
and bone supporting the teeth. It begins when the bacteria in plaque (the sticky,
colorless film that constantly forms on your teeth) causes the gums to be inflamed.
In its mildest form of disease, gingivitis, the gums redden, swell and bleed
easily. At this stage, gingivitis is reversible with professional treatment
and good oral home care.
However, untreated gingivitis can advance to periodontitis. With time, plaque
can spread and grow beneath the gum line. The toxins that are produced by the
bacteria in plaque irritate the gums. This in turn stimulates a chronic inflammatory
response in which the body in essence turns on itself, and the tissues and
bone that support the teeth are broken down and destroyed. The gums separate
from the teeth, forming pockets (spaces between the teeth and gums) that become
infected. As the disease progresses, the pockets deepen and more gum tissue
and bone are destroyed. Often this destructive process has very mild symptoms.
Eventually, teeth can become loose and may have to be removed.
The medical impact of periodontal disease often reaches farther than the area
of the teeth and gums. A recent article in USA Today linked heart disease with
untreated gum disease. The article reported that “The most common
strain of bacteria in dental plaque can cause blood clots that induce heart
attacks when they escape into the bloodstream according to recent research. Mark Herzberg
of the University of Minnesota said that the findings were the first to link
bacteria to the formation of potentially fatal blood clots.”
The article also stated that “In lab tests, Herzberg and colleagues injected
bacteria from dental plaque into the bloodstream of rabbits. The bacteria caused
blood clots to form within minutes. Rabbits are a proven model for testing
hypotheses about human heart disease and heart attacks. Additional studies
presented at the meeting showed that bacteria in plaque also are linked to:
A potentially fatal disease called infective endocarditis in which the sac
around the heart becomes inflamed; lung infections in people with chronic lung
disease such as obstructive pulmonary disease; a weekend immune system that
can slow wound healing and diminish a person’s response to vaccines against
hepatitis B and influenza, and a higher risk of giving birth to premature,
low-birth weight infants.”
Recent statistics show that periodontal disease affects all ages. Is has been
found in 3-year old children. 50% of the population have signs of the disease
by the age of 18 and 75% have periodontal disease by the 35. There are also
many contributing factors that can create conditions that encourage the onset
of advanced periodontal conditions. Stress and poor nutrition can make it difficult
for the body to fight off infections that include periodontal disease. Medications
such as oral contraceptives, anti-depressants, and heart medications can also
affect your oral health. Clenching or grinding your teeth can put excess force
on the supporting tissues of the teeth, thus speeding up the rate at which
periodontal tissues are destroyed. Those who smoke are also at a higher risk
for periodontal disease. And, genetic research shows that 30% of the population
are at a risk for gum disease from the time of their birth.
Treatments for periodontal disease vary due to their degree of progression.
The best way to determine whether of not your health is threatened by periodontal
disease is to answer the following questionnaire. If your answer is “yes” to
two or more of the questions, a periodontal check-up may help you save the
health of your gums and teeth as well as preventing a disease that could ultimately
affect your heart.
- Do you ever experience pain in your mouth?
- Do your gums ever bleed when you brush your teeth or when you eat hard
- Have you noticed any spaces developing between your teeth?
- Do your gums ever feel swollen or tender?
- Have you noticed that your gums are receding (pulling back from your
teeth) or that your teeth appear longer that before?
- Do you have persistent bad breath?
- Have you noticed pus between you teeth and gums?
- Have you noticed any change in the way your teeth fit together when you
- Do you ever develop sores in your mouth?