The good news about gum disease is that it can be prevented in most people. The best way to avoid gum disease is to follow the same measures you take to avoid cavities: brush your teeth twice daily, floss every day, maintain a healthy diet, avoid tobacco use and have your teeth professionally cleaned on a regular schedule.
In the early stage of gingivitis, it’s possible to reverse or even eliminate the disease by increasing the level of oral care. But it’s important to catch the disease as early as possible. Regular dental checkups are vital, as is an awareness of the warning signs of gum disease. If gingivitis progresses to periodontitis, serious problems, including tooth loss, can occur. Periodontitis is not completely curable, although your gum health can be restored with proper treatment.
Risk Factors for Gum Disease
The following are risk factors that you may be able to control to reduce your chances of developing gingivitis or periodontitis.
Poor oral hygiene
Be sure to brush and floss your teeth, gums and tongue daily, and make regular visits to your dentist.
Smoking and tobacco use
It’s long been established that smoking and tobacco use (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco) increase the risk of cancer, lung disease, heart disease and other serious health problems. But did you know they are also recognized risk factors for gum disease? Not only does tobacco use increase the occurrence of gum disease, but it can also hinder the healing process by decreasing your ability to fight infection in your gums.
A diet lacking in vitamins and minerals makes it more difficult for your immune system to fight infection. Too many sugary foods and carbohydrates increase the production of plaque, which is the underlying cause of gum disease.
You have a higher likelihood of developing gum disease if it runs in your family. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, up to 40% of the population may be genetically predisposed to gum disease. If your family members have gum disease, be extremely diligent in your home care and your dental visits.
Women experience hormonal fluctuations during puberty, pregnancy and menopause, which can affect tissues in the body, including the gums. Increased sensitivity in the gums can create a higher susceptibility to gum disease. Pay special attention to daily oral care and make regular visits to the dentist.
No matter what the cause (work, finances, depression, etc.), living in a state of stress can make it difficult for the body to fight off infection, including gingivitis and periodontitis. Stress is also a contributing factor to grinding and clenching which can accelerate the rate of tissue damage with gum disease.
Some drugs—including certain types of blood pressure medications, anticonvulsants, steroids, chemotherapy, oral contraceptives and other medications—can affect your oral health. Be sure your dentist is aware of any medications you are taking.
Any illness that interferes with the immune system’s ability to fight infection—such as diabetes, leukemia or HIV—can leave you more susceptible to gum disease. Additionally, uncontrolled diabetes can increase your risk for gum disease, and gum disease may decrease your ability to control your diabetes. Take special care to brush and floss daily and make regular visits to the dentist.
Gum Disease and Overall Health
Advanced, untreated gum disease degrades the tissues and bone structures surrounding the teeth and causes tooth loss. But the effects of gum disease can be felt well beyond the mouth and jaw. Research links gum disease to a variety of systemic conditions that affect overall health, including Alzheimer's, heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis. We refer to this as the mouth-body connection.
In some cases gum disease can cause problems in other parts of the body, while in other instances, conditions seemingly unrelated to the mouth can contribute to the development or advancement of gum disease.
It is important to let us and your general dentist know about any illnesses or conditions you are experiencing. An awareness of difficulties outside your mouth can help us treat certain problems related to your teeth and gums. In turn, we may be able to identify diseases affecting other areas of your body based on the symptoms we observe inside your mouth. The following is a list of conditions known to be related to gum disease.
If you have diabetes, it is especially important to take good care of your teeth and gums, as gum disease and diabetes can affect each other adversely. Diabetes can disrupt the immune system’s ability to fight infection, making diabetics more susceptible to gum disease, which is essentially an infection of the tissue surrounding the teeth. And advanced gum disease can boost the level of blood sugar in the body, further complicating diabetes.
Heart Disease and Stroke
The American Academy of Periodontology cites research indicating that people with gum disease are nearly twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery (heart) disease as those without gum disease. Currently, the causal link between the two diseases is not entirely clear, though some scientists believe that bacteria from the mouth travel through the blood stream to affect the arteries in the heart. Other research points to a link between gum disease and stroke, with one study finding higher instances of oral infection in a group of stroke survivors than in a control group.
In a normal body, bone growth slows over time, and due to age and other circumstances, bone density decreases. But in people with osteoporosis, bones are weakened to the point that they are fragile enough to fracture easily and frequently. Although we most commonly hear of hip or back fractures, all bones are affected, including the jaw. A jaw with decreased bone density can’t support the teeth as well as a healthy jaw, which leaves those suffering from both gum disease and osteoporosis with a heightened risk of tooth loss. If you think you might be at risk for osteoporosis, talk to your doctor about having a bone density test. If this condition is identified early enough, treatment can help.
Research indicates that bacteria from the mouth—including those present in someone suffering from gum disease—can be inhaled down into the lungs, leading to respiratory diseases such as pneumonia. Smoking is a primary cause of respiratory diseases and it is also a risk factor in gum disease. Quitting smoking can improve your health in many ways. Please get in touch with us or your general dentist if you are looking for help with kicking the habit.
During pregnancy and other phases of increased hormone levels (puberty, menstrual cycle, menopause) the risk of oral health problems is higher than normal, due to increased gum sensitivity. Some studies have linked gum disease to low birth weight and premature labor. If you are planning to become pregnant, be sure to assess your oral health first and begin treatment if you have gingivitis or periodontitis.