Understanding gum disease

May 01, 2015

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Periodontal disease or periodontitis, more commonly known as gum disease, is a widespread dental health problem that is mostly preventable. According to the Mayo Clinic, the main cause of gum disease is poor oral hygiene, and can be mitigated by brushing and flossing regularly, along with routine trips to the dentist.1 The National Institutes of Health adds that gum disease varies in severity from person to person, sometimes being nothing more than minor inflammation, but in the worst cases can cause soft tissue damage and loss of teeth.2 Considering this wide range of conditions, many people may not realize they have gum disease until visiting a dentist.

Defining periodontal disease
It doesn't take much for bacteria to build up in the human mouth. Poor oral hygiene habits can quickly lead to bacteria forming hardened plaque around the teeth and gums called tartar. If tartar isn't addressed by a dentist, and good brushing and flossing habits aren't implemented, the problem is eventually exacerbated and can cause gingivitis (gum inflammation) and other forms of gum disease. However, gingivitis, for the most part, is easily reversible. Make brushing and flossing top daily priorities to stop gingivitis.

Gum disease and heart health
A recent study conducted by scientists at Forsyth and Boston University found that using a topical oral remedy for gum disease can also reduce risk of heart attack.3 The research, published online by the American Heart Association, contributes to a growing body of evidence that oral health affects general well-being.  

In a press release, Lead Investigator Dr. Hatice Hasturk, an associate member of Forsyth's Department of Applied Oral Sciences and director of Forsyth's Center for Clinical and Translational Research, explained, "The general public understands the connection between heart health and overall wellness, and often takes appropriate steps to prevent heart disease. More education is needed to elevate oral wellness into the same category in light of proven connections to major health conditions."3

Interestingly enough, many of the risk factors for gum and heart disease overlap, including smoking, diabetes and genetic susceptibility.2 Overall, oral health problems, such as gum disease, could someday be a means of identifying other illnesses and conditions.  

Keeping your mouth healthy
The NIH notes that for most people gum disease begins to occur in their 30s or 40s and it more commonly affects men.2 Initially, symptoms may be minor or go relatively unnoticed, but in time become more serious. Some signs that you may be experiencing gum disease include:

  • Swollen, darkened or receding gums
  • Gums that are tender or tend to bleed
  • Recurring halitosis (bad breath)
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Loose teeth or teeth that appear to be elongated
  • Changing in the spacing of your teeth

If you have one or more of these symptoms, it's important to see a dentist as soon as possible to treat the problem and prevent further onset of the disease. The American Dental Association notes that it is possible to have gum disease without having any noticeable symptoms, which is another reason it's imperative not to skip trips to the dentist's office.4

1 "Periodontitis," the Mayo Clinic, Feb. 4, 2014. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/periodontitis/basics/definition/con-20021679

2 "Periodontal (Gum) Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments," the National Institutes of Health, Dec. 8, 2014. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/GumDiseases/PeriodontalGumDisease.htm#intro

3 "Forsyth study details how gum disease treatment can prevent heart disease," Forsyth Institute news release, April 14, 2015. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-04/fi-fsd041415.php

4 "Gum Disease," Mouth Healthy by the American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/g/gum-disease

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