If you’ve been told that you suffer from periodontal disease, commonly referred to as gum disease, you aren’t alone.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that over 70 percent of Americans aged 65 and older suffer from gum disease, an infection of the tissue that surrounds your teeth.
Age isn’t the only reason you or a loved one may be at risk of gum disease, either. Risk factors also include smoking and tobacco use and use of certain medications including antidepressants and some heart medications. Stress, genetics, poor nutrition, obesity, and clenching and grinding your teeth also are risk factors.
The consequences of gum disease are varied as well.
Several studies have shown that periodontal disease is associated with heart disease, according to the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP). While a cause-and-effect relationship has not yet been proven, research has indicated that periodontal disease increases the risk of heart disease.
Research has also suggested a relationship between diabetes and periodontal disease, with that relationship going both ways. Periodontal disease may make it more difficult for people who have diabetes to control their blood sugar and people with diabetes are also more likely to have periodontal disease than people without diabetes, the AAP says.
Links between gum disease and osteoporosis, respiratory diseases and cancer exist as well. Researchers found that men with gum disease were 49 percent more likely to develop kidney cancer, 54 percent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer, and 30 percent more likely to develop blood cancers.
So how do you fight back against gum disease?
It is important to see your dentist for regular cleanings. If your dentist feels it is necessary, he or she may refer you to a periodontist, which is a dentist who specializes in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of periodontal disease.
Caused when plaque builds up under the gumline between teeth, the disease can present itself in different forms.
The mildest form, known as gingivitis, is often caused by inadequate oral hygiene. It causes gum tissues to bleed easily and become swollen and red. At this stage, gum disease is often undetected by patients because discomfort can be minimal. With the help of your hygienist and proper home care, gingivitis is reversible.
Another form, periodontitis, is the result of untreated gingivitis. At this stage, plaque spreads beneath the gumline and harmful bacteria in the plaque cause the gum tissues to become irritated.
This inflammatory response, which is the body’s natural response to fighting infection, can lead to problems not only in the mouth, but also other parts of the body.
To learn more about gum disease, the American Academy of Periodontology also offers a website with great resources for continued education, as well as an online gum disease risk assessment test, found here: http://service.previser.com/aap/default.aspx.