February is Gum Disease Awareness Month. This was started by the Institute for Advanced Laser Dentistry back in 2012 in the USA. There is now a drive to bring this important awareness month to Australia. The aim is to raise awareness of this common disease as gum disease affects a huge proportion of the population and is the leading cause of tooth loss. Let’s find out a bit more about what is is and the implications it has for our health.
So what is gum disease?
Gum disease is essentially inflammation and infection that affects the gums and supporting bone around the teeth. It is actually one of the most common diseases worldwide and more people lose teeth through gum disease than from anything else (this includes tooth decay, broken teeth or trauma).
Bacteria are responsible. The bacteria irritate our gums. This is because our body recognises them as a foreign object and starts trying to defend itself. Loads of cells rush to the area, which is what causes inflammation – your gums may swell and bleed when touched. In these early stages, we call it gingivitis.
Some signs of gum disease are red, puffy and bleeding gums. However, there can be no symptoms at all.However, some people’s immune systems take it too far, and the body basically starts the process of trying to get rid of this foreign object and anything else in the way. When gum disease progresses to what we call periodontitis, the connections between the tooth and the gum start to get destroyed, including the bone around the tooth. The tooth will start to get loose, and over time, when treatment is not sought, the tooth will become so loose it can fall out.
What’s worse, the inflammation in your gums produces inflammatory toxins. These bacteria and toxins travel from below the gum-line through the blood stream around the body. This is why gum disease can actually affect so many other parts of the body.
Why is treating gum disease important?
Gum disease is inflammation and infection. It can cause bleeding gums. If you had inflammation, infection and bleeding somewhere other than your mouth, it’d be cause for concern. Your mouth is no different.
There are many links between gum disease and other health conditions. These include heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and dementia, pregnancy complications, diseases of the lungs, rheumatoid arthritis, erectile dysfunction, osteoporosis and obesity. That’s quite a list! Lets look at a few in more detail.
There are known links between gum disease
and heart disease and stroke.
Heart Disease & Stroke
The inflammatory toxins and bacteria can travel from the gums though the blood-stream to the heart and brain. Experts believe that the swelling that hardens arteries in heart disease and stroke and the swelling that occurs in the gums during gum disease may be related. (1)
Reducing the amount of damaging bacteria in the body, including those involved in gum disease, will reduce the risk of heart disease. However, remember that heart disease is caused by many factors. Keeping your mouth healthy with brushing and cleaning between your teeth, regular trips to the dentist, diet and exercise will all help improve your general health.
A healthy lifestyle – diet, exercise and regular
dental check-ups – will keep you healthy.
Links between gum disease and heart health have been known for over a century:
- People with gum disease are twice as likely to have heart disease. (1)
- Those diagnosed with a stroke caused by blocked blood vessels in the brain are more likely to have gum disease. (1)
- The presence of common problems in the mouth including gum disease, cavities and missing teeth were as good at predicting heart disease as were cholesterol levels. (1)
- If you already have heart disease, or have suffered from a stroke, it’s more important than ever to make sure you are seeing the dentist regularly.
Heart health and gum health go hand in hand.
Research suggests that advanced gum disease and some forms of cancer are linked. Research published in June 2008 in the Lancet Oncology found that men with a history of gum disease are 14% more likely to develop cancer than men with healthy gums. (2)
What’s more startling is that men with periodontal disease are actually 49% more likely to develop kidney cancer, 54% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer and 30% more likely to develop blood cancers.
There are links between gum disease and
cancers in men.
There has also been a link between prostate health and gum health. Men with gum disease indicators (red, swollen or tender gums) as well as inflammation in the prostrate have higher levels of PSA that men with only one of these conditions. A 2015 study from Case Western Reserve University showed that men treated for gum disease reduced the inflammation in the prostate. (1)
There have been links between gum disease and breast cancer in women, but further research is required. One study found that 14% of women with gum disease had an increased risk of cancer. (1)
The link between gum disease and diabetes actually goes in both directions:
- Those with diabetes are more likely to have gum disease
- Having gum disease can cause problems regulating glucose levels in diabetics.
Bacteria in the mouth love sugar! Therefore, diabetics who can’t control their sugar levels actually provide an environment where bacteria thrive. This causes worsening of the gum disease and therefore worsening of the glucose control. It’s a viscous cycle.
Alzheimer Disease and Dementia
Research has shown that those who have had chronic gum disease for 10 or more years increase their risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 70%. (1)
The exact link is not know, but one theory is that the bacteria in the mouth travel to the brain, triggering the body’s immune system to attack, which in turn kills brain cells.
Pregnant ladies are more susceptible to problems with their gums due to changing hormone levels.
Studies have shown that women who have severe gum disease which is left untreated during pregnancy are more susceptible to early labour. (3)
Gum disease has also been linked to low birth weight and preeclampsia.
It’s more important than ever to
visit the dentist while pregnant.
Once the baby is born, they will start to share the microbiome of their mother. This includes bacteria from the mouth. Remember that certain bacteria cause tooth decay and gum disease. Therefore, mothers with untreated disease can actually pass these disease-causing bacteria on to their babies.
For all these reasons, it is especially important to visit your dentist during pregnancy.
What should I do if I’m worried about my gums?
If you are worried about your gums (they are sore, bleeding, look red or puffy) please arrange a dental appointment for a check-up.
Regular teeth cleaning and check-ups help maintain good oral health and prevent major problems from occurring. Our highly trained dentist and dental assistants do a thorough check of your teeth, gums and mouth, picking up on things before they become an issue.
Call us on 0732111155 , book online or read more here.
Make an appointment to have your teeth and