What is Gum Disease?
Recent findings by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) suggest that more American adults may have gum disease than previously reported.
This estimate may have been off by as much as 50 percent. This new finding should be a wake-up call If you have not had a complete exam in the last six months.
What Causes Gum Disease?
Healthy mouths are naturally protected by the oral biofilm, a complex community composed of billions of helpful bacteria that actually protect your mouth and body from invasion by other, more harmful organisms. When provoked by heavy infestations of harmful bacteria, though, the biofilm fights back with pathogens that cause inflammation and exacerbate gum disease.
In many cases, these pathogens can then enter the circulatory system and activate your immune system, causing inflammation throughout the body and leading to the release of C-reactive proteins, or CRPs, from the liver. CRPs cause your arteries to become inflamed and can form harmful plaques inside the blood vessels. Ultimately, the immune system can be irreparably damaged.
Can Gum Disease Cause Other Health Problems?
Periodontal disease is an unpleasant thing all on its own. It can cause significant swelling and bleeding to your gums which can be painful, cause severe bad breath, as well as tooth loss can affect the way you eat and talk as much as it impairs your appearance. But did you know that it can also have a profound effect on illnesses throughout your entire body?
Mouth and Throat Cancer
Chronic trauma and repeated irritation of the oral mucous, both of which are caused by periodontal disease, are both major risk factors for the development of oral cancers. Untreated gum disease that leads to bone loss is even more dangerous. In fact, there is a fourfold increase in various head and neck cancers for each additional millimeter of periodontal disease-related bone loss around the teeth. This risk becomes even greater when compounded by additional smoking or alcohol use.
Heart Disease and Stroke
Periodontal disease has long been associated with heart disease. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, recent research indicates that severe gum disease nearly doubles the risk of heart disease. It especially increases the risk of bacterial endocarditis, in which the lining of the heart and valves become enlarged, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
In addition to causing inflammation and plaque formation along important arteries, periodontal disease also increases clot formation. Bacteria from infected gums can become dislodged during ordinary activities like chewing. Once they enter the bloodstream, they attach to fatty acids and build up inside the blood vessels, increasing the formation of clots that can raise blood pressure and cause heart attacks or even strokes.
The relationship between diabetes and periodontal disease goes both ways. Since diabetes thickens the blood vessels and makes infections more likely, people with diabetes are significantly more likely to develop periodontal disease. Once gum disease has developed, it then makes the diabetes more difficult to manage by increasing the blood sugar, which leads to increased risk of diabetic complications.
Colon cancer is one of the more recent connections that has been made with periodontal disease. In 2013, a new possible cause for the connection was found. Microbes known as fusobacteria, which are found primarily in the mouth, were discovered to also be present in cancerous tissues from colorectal cancer patients. The microbes apparently make their way from the infected mouth to the colorectal region, where they stimulate the immune system and turn on genes that control cancer growth. This leads to the early formation of benign tumors that can eventually become malignant.
Kidney and Lung Infection
When the bacterium from an infected mouth finds its way into the bloodstream, it can eventually end up in major organs. The kidneys are particularly susceptible to this bacteria and can become inflamed and infected. This bacteria can also be aspirated into the lungs, causing problems like pneumonia, bronchitis, and emphysema. This is especially problematic for people suffering from respiratory tract diseases that can make it harder for the body’s natural defense systems to eliminate harmful bacteria from the lungs.
Pregnancy Tumors and Periodontal Disease
Pregnancy tumors sound terrifying to most expectant mothers, but they’re actually a common symptom of gingivitis and gum disease during pregnancy. Pregnancy tumors most commonly appear during the second trimester, though they can form at any time during pregnancy. The tumors appear as lumps in the gum, usually near the top gum line, and are red, often glistening. They can bleed, crust over, and be very uncomfortable for women who develop them. They occur in about 10% of pregnant women and are non-cancerous. They are simply an inflammatory response to oral bacteria and food particles, exaggerated by pregnancy hormones. While many pregnancy tumors will go away on their own, others may need to be removed by a dentist. Unfortunately, they sometimes reappear after removal.
Gum Disease Affects the Baby During Pregnancy
As an expectant mother, you have a lot on your mind, and you know that your health affects your new baby’s health as well. What you might not know is that gingivitis and periodontal disease in mothers have been linked to some problems in newborns. Studies have shown that pregnancy gingivitis and periodontal disease have been associated with pre-term delivery and low birth weight. Research indicates that this has to do with the bacteria that enters the bloodstream through the gums, affecting the reproductive system.
Low Fertility in Men and Erectile Dysfunction
Periodontal disease’s effects on the body aren’t confined strictly to life-threatening diseases, either. Recent studies have shown distinct connections between gum disease and both low fertility and erectile dysfunction. As many as 65% of patients with low sperm counts also suffer from gingivitis, while only 48% of men with normal sperm have the disease. Similarly, men with erectile dysfunction are three times more likely to also have gum disease.
The exact nature of the correlation is still not proven, but the likely cause is a combination of inflammation and bacteria that seep into the bloodstream and damage the blood vessels that are required for proper function.
Periodontal diseases can cause or exacerbate all of these diseases and more: Osteoporosis, leukemia, and even low birth weight have all been associated with periodontal disease in clinical studies. So what can you do about it? Proper oral hygiene, including regular brushing and flossing, is key for preventing the formation of gum disease. If pain or bleeding gums makes you suspect that you may have a problem, see a dental professional as soon as possible. Early detection can make a world of difference in treating your periodontal disease and preventing unpleasant complications.
Is Periodontal Disease Transmitted?
Despite the fact that periodontal disease is extremely common, there is a lot of confusion and misinformation out there about how gum disease begins and how it’s treated. Periodontal disease develops gradually, and most people don’t know they have it until it becomes very serious, because symptoms may seem mild for a long time. Unfortunately, it can have serious consequences for the 50% of American adults who develop the condition by age 30. The big question remains, however: How does periodontal disease develop? Is it transmitted? Read on to learn the truth.
Is it Gum Disease”Contagious”?
Periodontal disease develops when harmful bacteria are able to develop under the gum line, flourishing in plaque and tartar that build up on the teeth. Over time, “pockets” under the gums develop, which can cause all kinds of health issue. The gums react to this bacteria by becoming red, inflamed, and sensitive.
Gum disease is mostly caused by oral hygiene issues, or hormonal changes, which change the natural bacteria content in the mouth. Technically, the condition isn’t considered contagious, but the bacteria that cause gum disease can certainly be spread through saliva contact. That means if you’re kissing, sharing drinks, or sharing silverware, there is a risk of passing on (or receiving) harmful bacteria that could flourish and turn into gum disease. This takes a great deal of repeated exposure, but it can happen, especially since families often share food.
It’s best to avoid sharing silverware or food among family members if one person is showing signs of periodontal disease (such as swollen, red gums, bleeding when brushing, or excessive bad breath), and get a dental exam right away so treatment can begin if necessary.
What Can be Done About Gum Disease?
Dr. Gallardo is a leader in treating periodontal disease. You can be proud of the training and experience of your dental health team. We pride ourselves on keeping up with the latest advances in modern periodontics, including the LANAP laser. We look forward to seeing you on your next visit.
Ready for your FREE consultation? Contact our office today to meet with our experienced periodontists!