If your hands bled when you washed them, you would be concerned. Yet many people think it’s normal if their gums bleed when they brush or floss. One out of every two American adults aged 30 and over has Periodontal disease, according to recent findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Infections of the structures around the teeth, which include the gums, are referred to as Periodontal disease. In the earliest stage of periodontal disease (gingivitis) the infection affects the gums.
Swollen and bleeding gums are early signs that your gums are infected with bacteria. If no action is taken, the infection can spread and destroy the structures that support your teeth in your jawbone. Eventually, your teeth can become so loose that they must be extracted.
Researchers are learning more about how an infection in your gums can affect your overall health. In recent years, gum disease has been linked to other health problems such as:
- Atherosclerosis and heart disease— Gum disease may increase the risk of clogged arteries and heart disease. Gum disease also is believed to worsen existing heart disease.
- Stroke— Gum disease may increase the risk of the type of stroke that is caused by blocked arteries.
- Diabetes— People with diabetes and periodontal disease may be more likely to have trouble controlling their blood sugar than diabetics with healthy gums.
- Respiratory disease— Gum disease may cause lung infections and worsen existing lung conditions when bacteria from the mouth reach the lungs.
How do you prevent Periodontal disease?
Practicing good oral hygiene and visiting your dentist regularly (once every six months, or more often if you have gum disease) can prevent Periodontal disease. Daily brushing and flossing, when done correctly, helps remove most of the plaque from your teeth. Professional cleanings by your dentist or dental hygienist will keep plaque under control in places that are harder for a toothbrush or floss to reach.
If oral hygiene slips or dental visits become irregular, plaque builds up on the teeth and eventually spreads below the gum line. There, the bacteria are protected because your toothbrush can’t reach them. Good flossing may help dislodge the plaque; but if it is not removed, the bacteria will continue to multiply, causing a more serious infection.
Risks and Prevention
Although bacterial plaque buildup is the main cause of periodontal disease, other factors, can contribute.
- Genetics— Researchers believe up to 30 percent of the population may have a genetic susceptibility to periodontal disease.
- Poor nutrition— Nutrition is important for overall good health, including a working immune system and healthy gums and mouth.
- Smoking and tobacco use— Smoking increases the risk of periodontal disease and the longer, and more one smokes, the higher the risk. If periodontal disease is present, smoking makes it more severe. Smoking is the main cause of periodontal disease that is resistant to treatment. Quitting smoking can play a major role in bringing periodontal disease under control.
- Misaligned or crowded teeth, braces or bridgework— Anything that makes it more difficult to brush or floss is likely to enhance plaque and tartar formation above and below the gum line.
- Grinding or clenching of teeth— These habits won’t cause periodontal disease, but they can lead to more severe disease if inflammation is already present. Your dentist can create a custom night or mouth guard to help reduce the pressure of clenching or grinding on the teeth.
- Stress— Stress weakens your body’s immune system, which makes it harder for your body to fight off infection, including periodontal disease.
- Fluctuating hormones— Whenever hormones fluctuate in the body, changes can occur in the mouth. Puberty and pregnancy can temporarily increase the risk and severity of gum disease, as can menopause.
- Medications— Several types of medications can cause dry mouth including antidepressants, diuretics and high blood-pressure medications. Without the protection of adequate amounts of saliva, plaque is more likely to form. Consult with your medical and dental providers.
- Diseases— Certain diseases increase susceptibility to periodontal diseases such as diabetes, leukemia, inflammatory bowel disease, and HIV infection.
At Finger Lakes Community Health, we offer medical, behavioral health, and dental services. Give us a call for an appointment at (315) 781-8448. We also assist with health insurance and offer a sliding fee scale based on income to make health care more affordable.
Tony Mendicino Jr., DDS, is a dental director at Finger Lakes Community Health, an independent healthcare organization with eight health centers in the region.