It is often said that “the mouth is the mirror of the body.”
When you look in the mirror, is your smile a reflection of good health, or is your mouth trying to tell you something?
Did you know that some symptoms and signs of certain diseases will show in the mouth first? That means regular dental checkups can also serve as an early warning system to detect potential health issues! Oral health, specifically periodontal (gum) disease has been directly linked to the following conditions:
- Heart Disease – research is ongoing and results have made a direct connection between gum disease and heart disease.
- Diabetes – people living with diabetes are more likely to also have gum disease and other types of infections.
- Preterm Labor – studies connecting gum disease and preterm labor are ongoing. However, any infection can pose a danger to both mother and baby and should be addressed.
- Oral & Tyroid Cancer – Gum disease has been connected with kidney, pancreatic and certain types of blood cancers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, half of adults in the U.S. are living with gum disease.
There are several risk factors associated with gum disease, including age, smoking/tobacco use, genetics, medication, nutrition and stress.
Are you wondering what your risk level is for periodontal (gum) disease? Take this 1-minute assessment from the American Academy of Periodontology and find out.
Dr. Irene Sheynman, a general dentist with 1st Family Dental, has provided answers to some of the common questions and concerns patients can have about gum disease.
Q: What is Gum Disease?
A: There are two types of gum disease. Gingivitis, which is familiar to people and is more common, is a condition that causes gums to become swollen, red, and bleed easily. Gingivitis is most commonly caused by inadequate brushing and flossing. However, left untreated, Gingivitis can progress to Periodontitis. This is where plaque spreads below the gum line. Bacteria will collect there and release toxins. The body responds to the constant presence of toxins with chronic inflammation. This inflammation breaks down the tissue under the gum line, which creates “pockets.” These pockets become infected. Over time, both gum tissue and bone are damaged or destroyed, which can eventually result in tooth loss.
Q: That sounds terrifying! Is it painful?
A: Actually, Gingivitis is often not painful at all. People will often ignore the inflammation or other symptoms. Periodontitis is not always painful, either. Patients will often come in to the office wondering why they have a loose tooth. This is why it is very important to educate patients about gum disease, and why dentists will check the health and condition of the gums as well as the teeth at each checkup visit.
Q: What are some of the symptoms of gum disease?
A: Early symptoms of gingivitis include red, swollen gums. This may be in one specific area of the mouth. Your gums may bleed sometimes, or they may bleed often when you brush or floss. Symptoms of more advanced gum disease can include bad breath that does not go away after brushing or rinsing, sore, bleeding gums, and even loose teeth. Your teeth may look longer because your gums have receded. If you have a partial, it may fit differently, or your teeth may not bite together like they usually do. If you experience these symptoms, it is best to see your dentist as soon as possible.
Q: My dentist just told me I have gum disease. How is this diagnosed?
A: During the regular exam, your dentist will review your radiographs (x-rays), conduct a visual exam, and look for inflammation, bleeding, periodontal pockets, and calculus (build-up) under the gum line. At your checkup your dentist will usually ask if anything is bothering you. This is an excellent time to tell your dentist if you’ve noticed any symptoms of gum disease on our own, or ask questions. Sometimes, pregnant women will experience gum disease. This normally goes away, but definitely speak to your dentist if you have any concerns or discomfort.
Q: How do you treat gum disease?
A: There are a variety of procedures used to address gum disease. If a patient has a more advanced case, a general dentist may refer the patient to see a periodontist. At 1st Family Dental, one treatment we use is called Scaling & Root Planing (SRP). This is done usually on one quadrant, or quarter of the mouth, at a time. First, we usually numb the area to be treated. Then we will do a deep cleaning (scaling) to remove calculus (build-up) underneath the gum line, all the way to the roots of the teeth. This also removes the bacteria that are causing the infection. If needed, we may also smooth down areas of the root (planing) to prevent bacteria from finding places to collect in the future.
Q: If I have gum disease, am I stuck with it for life?
A: Short answer: Most of the time, no! Gum disease can be reversed in most cases when proper care is taken. Plaque control consisting of professional cleanings at least twice a year accompanied by daily brushing and flossing is absolutely necessary. Brushing eliminates plaque from the surfaces of the teeth that can be reached, while flossing removes food particles and plaque from in between the teeth and under the gum line.
Q: What can happen if I ignore gum disease?
A: Worst case scenario, oral health-wise, gum disease will result in the loss of teeth. The gums and surrounding bone become so weakened by the bacteria and immune response that they will no longer be able to hold in the teeth. It’s best not to go down that road – catching gum disease as early as possible and staying on top of your oral hygiene will put you in the best position to have your healthiest smile. A healthy mouth truly can help lead to a healthy body. This is also why gum disease is so important to diagnose. With so many connections to other diseases within the body, having extra bacteria or asking your immune system to fight off an extra infection can get in the way of the healing process in other areas of your body!
Q: If half of American adults have some form of gum disease, is there any way I can prevent it?
A: Yes! We can’t say enough about how important proper brushing and flossing can be. We know it may seem like we are nagging, but the majority of gum disease cases can be prevented by good oral hygiene at home. This means brushing for two minutes, twice a day with a soft-bristled brush and toothpaste, and flossing at least once per day, ideally twice. If you have been treated for gum disease in the past, your dentist may recommend a maintenance program to come back in for more frequent checkups and cleanings for a while. Just as important as good brushing are regular checkups with your dentist. Regular checkups can prevent gum disease altogether.
Catching issues such as gum disease as early as possible will help keep your body in prime condition to heal itself. On the flip side, take care of your whole body as well. A healthy diet, exercise and regular checkups with your general doctor will help put the whole picture of health together. A healthy mouth can equal a healthy body, and vice-versa!
February is American Heart Month, and we at 1st Family Dental want to give back to the community with free dental treament, including a free deep cleaning.
Could you use a little extra help, or do you know someone who can? We want to help!