How Serious Is Gum Disease?
Chronic infectious disease in the world. Population surveys and studies done in the United States indicate that more than 50 percent of adults have gingivitis and 30 percent have periodontitis. And that’s in a country known for good teeth and good oral health care. The problem increases with age. Most children and teens show some signs of gingivitis, but because young children do not harbor the harmful bacteria linked to gum disease, their gingivitis rarely progresses to periodontitis.
Teens age 14 to 17, and only 4 percent of young adults ages 18 to 34. Among people 70 years and older, however, 86 percent have at least moderate periodontitis. Over a quarter of them have lost some teeth.
Gum Disease During Pregnancy
A disease this common that may also contribute to heart disease (the nation’s leading cause of death) is serious. It increases the risk of premature births and worsens the condition of people with stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, and respiratory infections. In fact, research reveals periodontal disease may be a far more serious threat to your health than previously realized. As the American Academy of Periodontology advises, if you are at risk for one of these conditions, take action now to protect your gums.
During pregnancy, periodontal disease is common and a cause for concern, not only for the mother’s oral health but also for the baby’s well-being. One study indicated that mothers with moderate-to-severe gum disease are seven times more likely to give birth to babies who are born too early and weigh too little. How periodontal disease affects pregnancy is not completely understood. Some research says the bacteria that cause inflammation in the gums also can trigger the immune system to produce inflammation in the cervix and uterus. Such inflammation can cause premature labor.
If you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, be sure to include periodontal screening as part of your prenatal care. Also, despite the tenderness in your gums that often comes with pregnancy, keep up good brushing and flossing habits. A soft bristle brush will be gentle on your gums. Furthermore, be sure to take prenatal vitamins, eat a nutritious diet and drink water throughout the day.
Heart Disease and Periodontal Disease
Research says gum disease creates a higher risk for heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. In one study, men with extensive gum disease were more than four times as likely to develop heart disease than men with healthy gums. Another study involving Arizona’s Pima Indians, who rarely smoke, showed those with gum disease were more than twice as likely to suffer a heart attack than those whose gums were healthy.
Researchers have proposed theories for how periodontal disease could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), but the reason for an association is unclear.
For years we’ve known that diabetes makes people more susceptible to developing periodontal disease. We also know it makes gum disease more severe once it develops. Diabetes, for example, slows circulation, which can make gum and bone tissue more vulnerable to infection. Also, diabetes might reduce the production of collagen, an important component of the tissue that supports teeth.
Another way diabetes affects gum disease is by reducing the amount of saliva. Saliva helps control the growth of bacteria and washes away sticky foods that help form plaque. Controlling diabetes lessens the risk.
Now research suggests that the relationship goes both ways. Periodontal disease may make it more difficult for people who have diabetes to control their blood sugar. More research is needed to figure out the details, but it appears that severe periodontal disease increases blood sugar. This lengthens the time when a person with diabetes experiences a high blood sugar level, which, in turn, increases the risk for diabetic complications.
If you have diabetes or are at risk for diabetes or periodontal disease, be sure to practice good oral health care and see a dentist or periodontist for a periodontal screening.
Respiratory Disease and Periodontal Disease
Bacteria from the mouth also can be carried by the bloodstream into the airways of the throat and lungs, increasing the risk for respiratory diseases and worsening chronic lung conditions like emphysema.