What is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal or “gum” diseases, including gingivitis and periodontitis, are serious infections that, left untreated can lead to tooth loss. The word periodontal means “around the tooth”. Periodontal disease is a chronic bacterial infection that affects the gums and bone supporting the teeth.
Periodontal disease can affect one tooth or many teeth. It begins when the bacteria in plaque (the sticky, colorless film that constantly forms on your teeth) causes the gums to become inflamed.
In the mildest form of the disease, referred to as “gingivitis”, the gums redden, swell and bleed easily. There is usually little or no discomfort. Gingivitis is often caused by inadequate oral hygiene. Gingivitis is often reversible with professional treatment and good home care.
Untreated gingivitis can advance to periodontitis. Over time, plaque will spread and grow below the gum line. Toxins produced by the bacteria in plaque irritate the gums. The toxins stimulate a chronic inflammatory response in which the body in essence turns on itself and the tissues and bone that support the teeth are broken down and destroyed. The bone loss occurs and gum tissue swells, forming periodontal pockets around your teeth. As the disease progresses, the pockets deepen and more gum tissue and bone are destroyed. Often this destructive process has mild symptoms, but eventually, teeth will become loose and may have to be removed.
Untreated periodontal disease has shown to increase the likelihood of stroke, heart disease, pre-term low birth weight babies, and respiratory disease.
Other Causes of Periodontal Disease
Smoking and Tobacco Use
Tobacco is linked to many serious illnesses such as cancer, lung disease and heart disease, as well as numerous other health problems. Tobacco users are also at an increased risk for periodontal disease. Recent studies have shown that tobacco use may be one of the most significant risk factors in the development and progression of periodontal disease.
Research proves that up to 30% of the population may be genetically susceptible to gum disease. Despite aggressive oral care habits, these people may be 6 times more likely to develop periodontal disease.
Some drugs, such as oral contraceptives [affect hormone levels], anti-depressants [can dry your mouth], and certain heart medicines [channel blockers – can cause tissue overgrowth], can affect your oral health.
Puberty, Pregnancy and Menopause in Women
During particular times, a woman’s body experiences hormonal changes that can affect many of the tissues in your body, including the gums. Your gums can become sensitive, and at times react strongly to the hormonal fluctuations. This may make you more susceptible to gum disease. Recent studies suggest that pregnant women with gum disease are 7 times more likely to deliver preterm, low birth weight babies.
As you know, stress is linked to many serious conditions such as hypertension, cancer, and numerous other health problems. Stress is also a risk factor for periodontal disease. Research demonstrates that stress can make it more difficult for the body to fight off infection, including periodontal disease.
Clenching or Grinding Your Teeth
Clenching or grinding your teeth can put excess force on the supporting tissues of the teeth which in turn can speed up the rate at which these periodontal tissues are destroyed. More people do this than they realize, especially since this is often a habit that is done at night.
According to the American Diabetes Association, approximately 16 million Americans have diabetes; however, more than half have not been diagnosed with this disease. Diabetics have a higher risk of developing infections, including periodontal diseases.
Poor Nutrition and Obesity
A diet low in important nutrients can compromise the body’s immune system and make it harder for the body to fight off infection. Because periodontal disease is a serious infection, poor nutrition can worsen the condition of your gums.
Other Systemic Diseases
Any disease that interferes with the body’s immune system may worsen the condition of the gums.