The health of your gums has a lot to do with your overall health. And for
more than half of all adults, periodontal disease causes mild to severe problems,
even tooth loss.
Periodontal disease, also referred to as gingivitis or periodontitis, is
a bacterial infection of the structures that surround and support the teeth. The
bacteria produce toxins that are attacked by the immune system. If this response
is not properly controlled, damage to the bone, ligaments, and gums that support
the teeth can occur. In advanced stages, the teeth lose their supporting structures
and may be lost.
Recent advances make much of this tooth loss preventable, says Mark Thomas,
D.M.D., professor in the UK College of Dentistry.
When the disease has already occurred, techniques exist that help rebuild the
lost tissue, Thomas says. These include procedures such as bone grafting and bone
regeneration. Therapies are also available to slow the disease using medications.
The impact of periodontal disease to one’s overall health is an area continuing
to be studied. “There is increasing evidence that periodontal infections have
a role in our general health and certain systemic diseases,” Thomas says.
Research has shown a link between periodontal disease and an increased
risk of heart disease, stroke, and low birth-weight infants, Thomas says. Additional
reports have suggested a relationship between osteoporosis and periodontal disease,
both characterized by bone loss.
Even those patients with a good gum-care regimen of brushing and flossing
aren’t immune from disease because, Thomas says, “There is a genetic component,
making some people predisposed to periodontal disease.”
Because periodontal disease is painless until the final stages, it often
goes unnoticed. However, there are many indications of potential periodontal disease
(see above list of warning signs).
If patients have these signs, they should be evaluated by a dentist or periodontist
and have a technique called periodontal probing done to measure the pocket depth
around the tooth, Thomas says. Depending on the severity of the disease, a plan
can be designed to correct and slow the progress of the disease.
Gum disease warning signs
Gums that bleed when you brush your teeth
Red, swollen, or tender gums
Gums that have pulled away from your teeth
A metallic taste or persistent bad breath
Pus or discharge between your teeth and gums
Loose or separating teeth
A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
A change in the fit of a partial