When people hear the term “kissing disease,” the first thing they think of is the infamous viral disease mononucleosis. The term, however, could just as easily refer to something vastly more common: Periodontal disease.
How Periodontal Disease Spreads
Babies are born with clean, healthy, pathogen-free mouths, even if their parents have periodontal disease. Despite this, some 90% of adults suffer from gingivitis, whether they know it or not. Clearly, at some point this wide majority of people gets infected. How exactly does that happen?
Periodontal disease isn’t contagious in the way that we usually think of the term. You can’t catch it by touching a germ-ridden surface or by riding the bus with someone infected. The bacteria at the root of the problem exist only in the crevices between the teeth and gums of the infected person, so it can’t be spread by most forms of contact.
This is where the term “kissing disease” becomes appropriate. Since periodontal disease involves oral bacteria, it can be spread by oral contact, such as kissing. That’s not the only avenue of transmission, of course, but it’s probably the most direct. The bacteria in saliva can also be spread by sharing utensils without washing them or by using someone else’s toothbrush. In some cases, it can even be spread by an ill-timed sneeze.
What Makes Periodontal Disease Catch
With all of those ways to spread infection, avoiding it can seem futile. Sharing toothbrushes is easy enough to avoid, but nobody wants to live a life without affection, and sneezes are downright impossible to avoid. Fortunately, just like the common cold, not everyone that is exposed to periodontal disease will actually catch it.
In order to take root in a new environment, the bacteria must have specific conditions in which to thrive and grow. In most cases, this means poor oral hygiene that leaves food particles and plaque that the bacteria need to reproduce. In other cases, ideal growth environments may include bridges or other extensive work that provides good hiding places for bacteria or receding gums, which are prone to colonization. Once bacteria has taken hold, it also needs those ideal growth conditions to continue so that it can attain sufficient numbers or concentration to trigger an immune response and the associated inflammation.
How You Can Prevent Periodontal Disease
So how do you thwart the bacteria? Simple. Don’t give it the environment it needs to take root and thrive. Here are a few concrete steps that will make your mouth a hostile environment for disease-causing bacteria:
- Practice good oral hygiene. Brushing your teeth after meals will remove food particles and plaque that that get trapped between your teeth and gums, and flossing will get the bits that the toothbrush can’t reach. Don’t forget mouthwash, either. In addition to washing out the smallest particles that can’t be removed otherwise, therapeutic mouthwash can directly fight any bacteria that has found its way into your mouth.
- Get regular check-ups. Seeing a dentist can help you understand your risk factors, such as age, smoking, or diet, and regular check-ups can help you catch any developing problems early and nip them in the bud before they develop into a real problem.
- Receive regular periodontal care. As necessary as it may be for continued comfort and good aesthetics, dental work like bridges and crowns can provide an ideal hiding place for bacteria. Follow-up visits for cleaning and maintenance can go a long way toward making sure that all is well.
If You Do Develop Periodontal Disease
Despite the best precautions, many people can progress to the inflammation stage before they even know that there’s a problem. These days, there are many treatment options ranging from simple cleanings to professional care such as the revolutionary LANAP® (Laser Assisted New Attachment Procedure) that can eliminate existing risk factors without the invasiveness and fear associated with traditional gum surgery and bone grafts.
If you’re in search of more information about fixing a developing problem, periodontists Dr. John Paul Gallardo and Dr. William Lamas of Miami Dental Specialists can help you learn more about your options for keeping your mouth healthy and your smile bright.