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Gum Disease and Your Overall Health

Facts About Gum Disease That May Surprise You

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Updated October 02, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Gum Disease
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Often taken for granted, the monotonous task of brushing and flossing our teeth daily has never been more important in order to avoid disease of your gums and the risk it places on our overall health. It has been estimated that 75% of Americans have some form of gum disease, which has been linked to serious health complications and causes various dental problems that are often preventable.

What is Gum Disease?

Periodontal disease, also called gum disease, is mainly caused by bacteria from plaque and tartar build up. Other factors that have the potential to cause gum disease may include:
  • Tobacco use
  • Clenching or grinding your teeth
  • Certain medications
  • Genetics

Types of Gum Disease Include:

  • Gingivitis - The beginning stage of gum disease and is often undetected. This stage of the disease is reversible.
  • Periodontitis - Untreated gingivitis may lead to this next stage of gum disease. With many levels of periodontitis, the common outcome is chronic inflammatory response, a condition when the body breaks down the bone and tissue in the infected area of the mouth, ultimately resulting in tooth and bone loss.

Signs of Gum Disease Include:

  • Red, bleeding, and/or swollen gums
  • Bad breath
  • Mobility of the teeth
  • Tooth sensitivity caused by receding gums
  • Abscessed teeth
  • Tooth loss

Recent studies suggest gum disease may contribute to or be warning signs of potentially life threatening conditions such as:

  • Heart Disease and Stroke - Studies suggest gingivitis may increase the risk of heart disease and stroke because of the high levels of bacteria found in infected areas of the mouth. As the level of periodontal disease increases, the risk of cardiovascular disease may increase with it. Other studies have suggested that the inflammation in the gums may create a chronic inflammation response in other parts of the body which has also been implicated in increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Diabetes - People with diabetes often have some form of gum disease, likely caused by high blood glucose, according to the CDC. People with diabetes need to take extra care to ensure proper brushing and flossing techniques are used to prevent the advancement of the gum disease. Regular check-ups and cleanings with your dental hygienist should be followed.
  • Chronic Kidney Disease - A study, conducted by Case Western Reserve University, suggests that people without any natural teeth, known as edentulous, are more likely to have chronic kidney disease (CDK), than people with natural teeth. CDK affects blood pressure potentially causing heart disease, contributed to kidney failure, and affects bone health.
  • Preterm Birth - Babies that are born premature -- before 37 weeks of gestation -- may face numerous health complications. Research indicates that women with periodontal disease are three to five times more likely to have a baby born preterm compared to women without any form of gum disease. Women are more susceptible to gingivitis when pregnant and should follow their regular brushing habits, and continue with dental cleanings and examinations.

Treatments for Gum Disease

Depending on the type of gum disease, some of the available treatment options are:

  • Removal of plaque and calculus by way of scaling done by your dental hygienist or dentist.
  • Medications such as chlorhexidine gluconate, a mouth rinse prescribed by your dentist or hygienist to help kill the bacteria in your mouth, along with frequent cleanings.
  • Surgery may be necessary in certain cases to stop, halt, or minimize the progression of periodontal disease. Surgery is also used to replace bone that was lost in advanced stages of the disease.

What Can I Do to Prevent Gum Disease?

Proper brushing and flossing is the easiest way to reduce and prevent gum disease, but regular cleanings with your dental hygienist or dentist are necessary to remove calculus and treat advanced gum disease. If you are concerned that you may have gum disease, contact your dentist.

Sources:

American Academy of Periodontology. "Chronic Kidney Disease Risk" October 14, 2008.

American Academy of Periodontology. "Gum Disease and Your Heart"January 8, 2008.

American Academy of Periodontology. "Inflammation and Gum Disease" November 24, 2008.

American Academy of Periodontology. "Oral Health During Pregnancy November 12, 2007.

American Academy of Periodontology. "Periodontal Procedures"

American Academy of Periodontology. "Symptoms of Gum Disease"

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention- "Take Charge of Your Diabetes" December 20, 2005

Carol Lewis "Fighting Gum Disease". FDA Consumer Magazine May-June 2002.

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