Did you know that more than 47% of adults over the age of 30 suffer from gum disease? In fact, some patients do not even realize they have it because it can be painless. While gum disease may not always hurt, it can still cause significant damage to your oral health and your heart health. In this article, we’ll explain what gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, actually is, the link it has with heart health, and how you can prevent and treat it to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
What is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal disease is the medical name for gum disease. “Peri" means “around” and "odontal" means “teeth.” Put simply, it is an infection in the tissues that surround and support your teeth. Gums are obviously included here, but it can also include the cementum, the periodontal ligament, and the alveolar bone.
Periodontal disease is caused by the bacteria in plaque that sticks to your teeth. If that plaque is not regularly removed by brushing and flossing, it can enter the gums and cause infection.
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to infection, which is why one of the early signs of gum disease is inflammation of your gums. The infection can spread, leading to painful gum recession, bleeding, and even tooth loss. If the bacteria from gum disease gets into your bloodstream, it can cause problems in the rest of your body as well, which is discussed below.
Recognizing Gum Disease
It’s important to recognize gum disease because the earlier you treat it, the easier it is to cure. The American Academy of Periodontology lists the following signs of periodontal disease:
- Red, swollen, or tender gums; or other pain in the mouth
- Bleeding while brushing, flossing, or eating hard foods
- Receding gums that pull away from the teeth, causing teeth to look longer than before
- Loose or separating teeth
- Pus between the gums and teeth
- Sores in the mouth
- Persistent bad breath
- A change in the way the teeth fit together when one bites down
- A change in the fit of partial dentures
The earliest stage of gum disease is called gingivitis. You can recognize it because your gums may become red, swollen, and bleed easily.
While you might be tempted to avoid the dentist because of gingivitis, imagine how quickly you would call the doctor if your hands bled every time you washed them? Furthermore, if the disease is treated at this point, it is still reversible and can usually be resolved with the help of a professional cleaning by your dentist.
As gum disease progresses, it becomes periodontitis. At this stage, you begin to face more serious repercussions to your oral health. The infection can cause the loss of tissue, bone, and even teeth. Treatment for periodontitis is more complicated than gingivitis, but it must be done and is crucial for the health of your mouth and body.
Is There Really a Link Between Gum Disease and Heart Health?
While gum disease might seem inconvenient, few people recognize the impact it can have on your health. For instance, did you know that research shows that people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to have heart disease? 800,000 Americans die from cardiovascular disease each year, and so we must treat gum disease seriously.
This means that your dentist not only can help give you a healthy heart, he or she can often recognize the signs of bodily health issues before anyone else. This is one of the many reasons we recommend regular cleanings and checkups with your dentist.
How to Prevent Gum Disease
The best way to treat gum disease is to prevent it from happening. Any of the following can increase your chances of getting gum disease:
- Poor oral hygiene
- Smoking or chewing tobacco
- Crooked teeth that are hard to keep clean
- Certain medications
Obviously, some of these factors can be controlled (like oral hygiene or use of tobacco) and some of these factors cannot (like genetics). Focusing on the things you can control is the best way to prevent gum disease.
Brushing your teeth and flossing are obviously important, but so are regular cleanings at the dentist. Dental offices are equipped to give your teeth a deep clean and remove early signs of infection in places that are difficult to reach with a toothbrush and floss.
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How to Treat Gum Disease
The first step is to schedule an appointment with your dentist. Depending on the severity of your periodontal disease, the dentist will decide the best way to treat your situation. It may only require a professional cleaning and ramping up your oral hygiene habits or it could require something more.
If your condition has already progressed to periodontitis, the most effective treatment will likely involve scaling and planing, which cleans between the teeth and gums to remove the infection. The dentist may also prescribe an antibiotic treatment to help clear out the infection. Patients with advanced gum disease will need regular appointments to ensure the condition does not progress.
If you suspect you have gum disease, then contact your dentist for an assessment as soon as possible. Both your oral health and heart health are too important, so don’t ignore gum disease!
If you’re in the Alpharetta, GA area and are looking for a gentle and experienced dentist, then contact us at Advanced Cosmetic & Family Dentistry. Dr. Silverman has significant experience with treating gum disease and will make sure you are well looked after. We look forward to meeting you!