Dr. Linda Niessen is the Dean of the planned College of Dental Medicine at Kansas City University’s Joplin campus and joined us to discuss gum disease this morning!
September is National Gum Care Month! A recent report from Centers for Disease Control & Prevention indicates that 47 percent of adults in the U.S. have some form of gum disease. A growing body of evidence has linked oral health, particularly periodontal (gum) disease, to several chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Gum disease (or periodontal disease) is the result of infection and inflammation of the gums and bones that surround and support the teeth.
In its early stage, called gingivitis, gums can become swollen and red, and they may bleed.
As it progresses to the more serious form, called periodontitis, the gums can pull away from the tooth, bone can be lost, and the teeth may loosen or even fall out.
Gum disease and tooth decay are the two biggest threats to dental health.
· What causes gum disease?
— Bacteria in the mouth infect tissue surrounding the tooth, causing inflammation around the tooth leading to periodontal disease. When bacteria stay on the teeth long enough, they form a film called plaque, which eventually hardens to tartar, also called calculus. Tartar build-up can spread below the gum line, which makes the teeth harder to clean. At that point, only a dental health professional can remove the tartar and stop the periodontal disease process.
Several studies have shown a link between gum disease and other conditions. While a causal relationship has not been conclusively established, research suggests that gum disease may contribute to the progression of other diseases.
People with diabetes are more likely to have gum disease than people without diabetes, probably because people with diabetes are more susceptible to contracting infections. Those who don’t have their diabetes under control are especially at risk.
Scientists believe that inflammation caused by gum disease may be responsible for the association. Gum disease can also exacerbate existing heart conditions.
Research has found that bacteria associated with gum disease can be aspirated into the lungs and contribute to respiratory diseases such as pneumonia.
A bacterium known to cause chronic inflammatory gum infections also triggers the inflammatory autoimmune response found in joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis.
Studies have shown a connection between bacteria associated with gum disease and the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Gum disease bacteria may be able to travel to the brain and contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Overall, a healthy mouth that’s free of bacteria that cause gum disease and cavities will result in a stronger immune response so the body can deal with viruses and bacteria more effectively.
What are some warning signs for gum disease?
— Gums that bleed during brushing
— Red, swollen or tender gums
— Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
— Persistent bad breath
— Loose or separating teeth
— A change in the way your teeth fit together when biting
· How is gum disease prevented?
— Brush and floss twice daily to remove the bacteria.
— See a dentist at least once a year for checkups, or more frequently if you have any of the warning signs.