By Annette Brooks
Did you know that your oral health and overall health are intertwined? Research indicates that gum disease has been linked to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis, some cancers, and more. Women are especially susceptible to oral health issues resulting from hormonal fluctuations which occur during puberty, pregnancy, and pre-, peri-, and post menopause. Using hormone-based birth control and even menstruation, which involves hormonal shifts, has been connected to gum disease.
Symptoms of gingivitis, an early stage of gum disease, include irritation, redness, and swollen gums around the base of the teeth. Left untreated or undertreated, gingivitis may progress to a more advanced stage of gum disease called periodontitis, signified by an infection that can spread to underlying tissues, the jawbone, and systemically to different bodily organs. In addition to causing or worsening certain chronic diseases, periodontal disease can cause receding gums, tooth loss, and jawbone damage.
The development of periodontitis starts with plaque in most cases. Treatments include deep cleaning teeth below the gum line with a laser to remove plaque and topical antibiotics to help control the bacteria and shrink periodontal pockets. Periodontal pockets are spaces or openings surrounding the teeth under the gum line filled with infection-causing bacteria.
Flap surgery may be required in severe cases. This involves a periodontist cutting the gums and lifting them back to remove plaque deposits in pockets around the teeth. When done, the gums are sutured closely around the teeth.
Periodontitis is typically a result of poor oral hygiene, yet sometimes, other culprits are involved. Changes in eating habits can lead to an increased risk of gum disease during pregnancy. An ill-fitting or damaged bridge can lead to bacteria build-up along the gumline. Either a bridge replacement or getting dental implants to replace missing teeth provides a solution. A misaligned bite and crowded, crooked, difficult-to-clean teeth can contribute to periodontal disease. Getting your teeth straightened with traditional braces or clear aligners such as Invisalign will not only create a beautiful smile but also help you avoid getting gum disease.
Fortunately, good oral health is usually achieved and maintained with proper oral hygiene — flossing, brushing, and using a rinse as directed by your dentist — and regular dental check-ups with professional cleaning. Don’t wait until you have a problem before seeing your dentist. Preventive, proactive care can boost your oral health and reduce your risk of gum disease.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Periodontal disease is a risk factor for preterm and low birth weight babies
- Gum disease risk increases with age, but can start at any age
- You’re missing over 40% of tooth surfaces when you don’t floss
- Gingivitis is preventable and reversible. Periodontitis isn’t, but can be improved and managed so it doesn’t progress.