You’ve heard it before – three in four adults over 35 have some form of gum disease. A preponderance of clinical research reveals that gum disease poses a far greater threat to health than just losing a tooth. Periodontal disease may actually increase your risk for a variety of health concerns including heart attacks, low birth weight babies, diabetes, stroke, and other bad things.
Dr. Isadore Rosenfield, noted cardiologist and media health consultant once said – “People with chronically infected gums have twice as much heart disease as the rest of us. We have an imperative to treat gum disease – to save not only teeth but also patients.”
Dr. Steven Offenbacher, former director of the Center for Oral and Systemic Disease at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – “In many ways, periodontal disease is like high blood pressure – it’s painless and only becomes evident when it’s quite severe.”
All gum disease begins with the accumulation of plaque, a sticky deposit of bacteria, mucus and food particles that build up along the gum line and between the teeth. Plaque can cause gingivitis – inflammation of the gums. Plaque must be removed daily to prevent buildup. Excellent home care, coupled with a minimum of twice-yearly professional cleanings, will combat gingivitis in most people.
There is a strong genetic component to periodontal disease. One of the questions I always ask my patients is whether or not they know their familial history with regards to gum disease. If a patient says, “Well, my parents both had dentures”, there is a strong possibility that patient has the gene for gum disease. There are two main reasons that people lose teeth – gum disease and decay. Decay is 100% preventable. Gum disease, like diabetes, is controllable but not curable; it requires intervention.
If gingivitis is not treated, or is treated too late, the result can become periodontitis. This occurs when plaque invades beneath the gum, turning into a hard substance called tartar or calculus. Calculus can only be removed during a professional cleaning. At this stage, skilled care is essential to stave off tooth loss. In more advanced cases, a procedure called scaling and root planning (aka deep cleaning), is performed to remove hidden plaque and tartar from below the gum line.
Do you have gum disease? Warning signs may not be evident to you but may include red, swollen, tender, bleeding or receding gums, loose teeth, persistent bad breath, changes in tooth position, and the development of pockets between gums and teeth. Having said that, if you have any of those symptoms, you’ve waited too long.
For most people, good health requires investment. Today, periodontal disease can be successfully treated BEFORE teeth get loose from bone loss. Your hygienist can measure the pockets and bleeding points around your teeth and institute non-surgical treatment before you suffer the irreversible bone destruction of periodontal disease.
So, remember two things: First, lack of pain is NOT a good indicator that you don’t have problems – Second, the hygienists of the 21st century don’t just clean teeth – THEY SAVE LIVES!
Dr. St. Clair maintains a private dental practice in Rowley and Newburyport dedicated to health-centered family dentistry. He has a special interest in treating sleep apnea and TMJ problems. If there are certain topics you would like to see written about or questions you have please email them to him at firstname.lastname@example.org