Periodontal (gum) disease can do unpleasant things to your mouth, including losing teeth. Its effects, though, may not be isolated to the oral cavity: Gum disease could make other diseases in the body worse.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection most often caused by dental plaque, a thin bacterial film that builds up on teeth in the absence of effective oral hygiene. At the outset it may infect your gums causing them to swell, redden or bleed. Eventually, though, the infection can advance deeper toward the tooth roots and bone.
There are various methods to treat gum disease depending on the extensiveness of the infection. But these methods all share the same objective—to remove all uncovered plaque and tartar (hardened plaque). Plaque fuels the infection, so removing it starves out the disease and helps the body to heal.
The damage gum disease can do to the teeth and the surrounding gums is reason enough to seek treatment. But treating it can also benefit your overall health. That's because the weakened gum tissues often serve as an open portal for bacteria and other toxins to enter the bloodstream. From there they can travel to other parts of the body and cause disease.
Gum disease also shares another feature with some systemic conditions: inflammation. This is the body's response to disease or trauma that isolates damaged tissues from healthy ones. But with gum disease, this inflammation can become chronic and ironically do more harm than good.
A gum infection may also increase the body's overall inflammatory response, in turn aggravating other diseases like diabetes, heart disease or arthritis. Treating gum disease lowers inflammation, which in turn could ease inflammation in other conditions. Likewise, reducing your body's overall inflammatory response by properly managing these other conditions might make you less susceptible to gum disease.
It's important then to prevent and treat gum disease as if your overall health depended on it—because it does. You can prevent it by brushing and flossing daily and undergoing regular dental cleanings to remove plaque. And see your dentist promptly at the first signs of gum problems. Likewise, follow a physician-supervised program to manage any inflammatory conditions.
If you would like more information on preventing or treating gum disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs wrapped up the NFL regular season in January, setting single-season records in both catches and receiving yards. The Bills handily beat the Miami Dolphins, earning themselves the second seed in the AFC playoffs, and Diggs certainly did his part, making 7 catches for 76 yards. But what set the internet ablaze was not Diggs' accomplishments on the field but rather what the camera caught him doing on the sidelines—flossing his teeth!
The Twitterverse erupted with Bills fans poking fun at Diggs. But Diggs is not ashamed of his good oral hygiene habits, and CBS play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan expressed his support with “Dental hygiene is something to take note of, kids! There's never a bad place to floss” and “When you lead the NFL in catches and yards, you can floss anytime you want.”
We like to think so. There's an old joke among dentists:
Q. Which teeth do you need to floss?
A. Only the ones you want to keep.
Although this sounds humorous, it is borne out in research. Of note, a 2017 study showed that people who floss have a lower risk of tooth loss over periods of 5 years and 10 years, and a 2020 study found that older adults who flossed lost an average of 1 tooth in 5 years, while those who don't lost around 4 teeth in the same time period.
We in the dental profession stress the importance of flossing as a daily habit—and Stefon Diggs would likely agree—yet fewer than 1 in 3 Americans floss every day. The 2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, revealed that only 30% of Americans floss every day, while 37% floss less than every day and 32% never floss.
The biggest enemy on the football field may be the opposing team, but the biggest enemy to your oral health is plaque, a sticky film of bacteria and food debris that builds up on tooth surfaces. Plaque can cause tooth decay and gum disease, the number one cause of tooth loss among adults. Flossing is necessary to remove plaque from between teeth and around the gums where a toothbrush can't reach. If not removed, plaque hardens into tartar, which can only be removed by the specialized tools used in the dental office. Regular professional dental cleanings are also needed to get at those hard-to-reach spots you may have missed.
If Diggs can find time to floss during a major NFL game, the rest of us can certainly find a couple minutes a day to do it. While we might not recommend Diggs' technique of flossing from one side of the mouth to the other, we commend his enthusiasm and commitment to keeping his teeth and gums healthy. Along with good dental hygiene at home—or on the sidelines if you are Stefon Diggs—regular professional dental cleanings and checkups play a key role in maintaining a healthy smile for life.
Here's an alarming statistic: Nearly half of adults over 30—and 70% over 65—are affected by periodontal (gum) disease. It's sobering because if not caught and treated early, gum disease can lead to not only tooth loss but also an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
Gum disease most often begins with dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that builds up on tooth surfaces mainly from poor oral hygiene. Undisturbed plaque can become a breeding ground for bacteria that cause gum infections.
Daily brushing and flossing can remove most of this plaque buildup, but you also need to get professional dental cleanings at least twice a year. This is because any plaque you missed brushing and flossing can interact with saliva and harden into calculus or tartar. This hardened plaque can't be dislodged through brushing and flossing alone, but requires special instruments used by dental professionals to remove it.
You should also be aware of other risk factors you may have that increase your chances of gum disease and take action to minimize them. For instance, you may have a higher genetic propensity toward gum disease. If so, you'll need to be extra-vigilant with personal hygiene and watch for any signs of disease.
Tobacco use, especially smoking, can double your chances of gum disease as well as make it difficult to notice any signs of disease because your gums will not bleed or swell. Quitting the habit can vastly improve your odds of avoiding an infection. Your disease risk could also be high if you have a diet heavy in sugar, which feeds bacteria. Avoiding sugary foods and eating a more dental-friendly diet can lower your disease risk.
Oral hygiene and managing any other risk factors can greatly reduce your risk for gum disease, but it won't eliminate it entirely. So, be sure you seek professional dental care at the first signs of swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. The sooner you undergo treatment for a possible gum infection, the better your chances of avoiding extensive damage to your teeth, gums and supporting bone.
The risk for gum disease goes up as we get older. But by following good hygiene and lifestyle practices, you can put yourself on the healthier side of the statistics.
If you would like more information on gum disease care and treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Gum Disease Gets Started.”
While your dentist plays an important role in keeping things inside your mouth healthy, what you do every day often makes the biggest difference. Here are 5 routine things you can do for better oral health.
Brush and floss every day. The most important thing you can do for your teeth and gums is adhere to a daily schedule of brushing and flossing. These twin tasks remove the daily buildup of plaque, a thin bacterial biofilm most responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.
Check your hygiene. There's brushing and flossing—and then there's brushing and flossing effectively. To make sure you're getting the job done, run the tip of your tongue along your teeth after you brush and floss. If it feels smooth, mission accomplished! If it feels rough and gritty, though, try again. You can also use plaque disclosure products occasionally to highlight any missed plaque still on your teeth.
Say no to sugar. Chances are you love sugar—and so do the disease-causing bacteria in your mouth. As they feed on sugar, they multiply and produce acid, which in high levels can erode tooth enamel and lead to tooth decay. Limiting sugar in your diet reduces oral bacteria and the acid they produce, and thus lowers your risk for disease.
Drink plenty of water. Saliva plays an important role in oral health: It helps fight off bacteria, neutralizes acid and re-mineralizes tooth enamel. But it can't do those things if there's not enough of it. So, if your mouth consistently feels dry, drink more water to give your body what it needs to make saliva. Drinking water also washes away food particles that could become plaque and lowers your mouth's acidity.
Maintain your dental appliances. You can extend the life of dentures, retainers or other types of dental appliances by cleaning and maintaining them. You should clean your appliance regularly using regular hand soap or a designated cleaner (not toothpaste, which can be too abrasive). Unless otherwise directed by your dentist, take them out at night and be sure to store them where kids or pets can't get to them.
If you would like more information on best dental care practices, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
It takes only a short time neglecting your oral hygiene before you begin to notice some unpleasant things with your gums: swelling, redness or even bleeding. These are all signs of gingivitis, a periodontal (gum) disease that arises from bacterial plaque, a thin biofilm that builds up on tooth surfaces when a person doesn't brush or floss.
Fortunately, early stages of gingivitis can be treated effectively with comprehensive plaque removal during one or more office visits. If, however, it's not dealt with early, it can develop into something much more serious: acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG). This form does more than leave you with unattractive teeth and gums and terrible breath — it could eventually cause you to lose your teeth.
ANUG is also known as trench mouth, a common ailment among front line World War I soldiers without access to proper dental care and hygiene. It's most prevalent today among individuals who are under a great deal of stress, not sleeping or eating well and haven't cleaned or properly cared for their teeth for an extended period of time. Tobacco smokers also seem more susceptible than non-smokers to the disease, perhaps because smoke dries the mouth and changes the bacterial environment.
Unlike common gingivitis, ANUG can be quite painful. In effect, the gum tissues begin to die (necrotize), especially the triangular peaks between teeth known as papillae. Besides the other symptoms of gingivitis, the tissues may become yellowish.
ANUG can be treated effectively. The first step is to relieve the symptoms of pain and inflammation through medication. The focus then shifts to treating the underlying cause, bacterial plaque. Besides plaque removal common in any treatment for gum disease, we may also need to initiate antibiotic therapy. Metronidazole is a common antibiotic that's been demonstrated effective against the specific bacterial strain associated with ANUG. We might also combine this with an antibacterial mouth rinse containing chlorhexidine.
The final step belongs to you: to keep ANUG or any other gum disease from reoccurring, it's important for you to adopt a daily regimen of brushing and flossing, along with regular dental visits for thorough teeth cleaning and checkups. Taking this proactive approach will help ensure you won't suffer from this painful and unattractive form of gingivitis again.
If you would like more information on acute gingivitis, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Painful Gums in Teens & Adults.”
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