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Periodontal disease is a bacterial infection resulting when food, bacteria, and tartar are not sufficiently cleaned from the teeth. In the beginning, the infection develops along the gum line, but if it is left untreated it will progress beneath the gums to damage the gums, teeth, and bone.
Those who suffer from periodontal disease often encounter the following:
- Bleeding gums when brushing or flossing
- Receding gums (teeth appear longer)
- Obvious plaque, tartar or calculus
- Spaces developing between your teeth
- Swollen, red or tender gums
- Persistent bad breath
- Sensitive teeth
- Teeth are loose or mobile
If you have gum disease you are not alone. The World Health Organization Report of 2003 was a world-wide investigation of periodontal disease. It was the largest evaluation ever undertaken in a single study. It discovered worldwide that patients 35 to 44 years of age had a 90% incidence of gum bleeding (gingivitis) and in the U.S. this was slightly higher. Approximately 66% of American adults 35 to 44 had periodontal pockets (periodontitis) greater than 3mm (3mm is maximum normal). 20% of the patients have 6mm pockets (severe disease) or deeper.
The WHO Report is supported by a position paper on the epidemiology of periodontal disease prepared by the Research Science and Therapy Committee of the American Association of Periodontists. This paper reports that 5 to 15% of the American population have severe periodontitis, while the majority of adults have moderate periodontitis. Using attachment loss as the definition of periodontitis, 80 to 90% of adults 55 and over have periodontitis.
In essence, periodontal disease is one of the most prevalent diseases of human kind.
Periodontal disease is so prevalent because it is caused by a biofilm type of infection. A biofilm is a layering of proteinaceous materials and bacteria. This layering of multiple bacteria causes a series of micro-organism changes and related difficulties. The bacteria on the outer surface of the biofilm may be alive and active, while the bacteria on the bottom of the biofilm are less active or dormant. In addition, there is generally not just one bacterium, but hundreds of different bacteria mixed together in the biofilm.
Is Gum Disease Serious?
It is important to treat gum disease at any stage in order to save your gums and teeth, but new research studies show a connection between gum disease (periodontitis or gingivitis) and serious systemic diseases including:
- Heart Disease
- Respiratory Disease
- Blood Clots and Strokes
- Preterm and Low Birth Weight Babies
- Alzheimer’s Disease
The theories linking gum disease to other diseases explain that the infection in your gum tissue may serve as an entry point for bacteria to invade your body. Similar to a wound on your hand that might get infected and spread to other parts of your body, this infection in your mouth may provide a entry point for the bacteria to spread to the rest of your body.
ASSESSING YOUR RISK FACTORS FOR DISEASE
People who have a family history of disease may be genetically predisposed and need to discuss ways to protect their health with their doctor. It is important for everyone to eat right, not smoke, and take care of their oral health.
Heart Disease, Stroke, Hardening of the Arteries (atherosclerosis)
Once oral bacteria enter the body, they may cause inflammation, which in combination with fat deposits can lead to a build up of plaque clogging blood flow and to a build up of blood platelets causing blood clots. These conditions may be responsible for heart attacks, strokes, and other dangerous health conditions.
Controlling gum disease has a positive effect in controlling diabetes. Diabetic patients with gum disease have a higher blood sugar level and require more medication to manage their diabetes. When the gum disease was treated, the blood sugar levels decreased and stayed lower for 3 months.
The bacteria present in gum disease have also been located in lung tissue in patients with lung abscesses. Biopsies of the diseased lung tissue found the same bacteria that are present in the gum disease.
The bacteria associated with Alzheimer’s Disease have been isolated in the Periodontal pockets and along the nerves from the teeth to the brain tissue. When these bacteria are introduced into brain cultures, beta amyloid is formed, which is the substance that is a cause of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Pre-term and Low Birth Weight Babies
Pregnant women also have an increased incidence of gum disease. It has been demonstrated that an inflammatory product caused by the bacterial gum infection can cause a woman’s uterus to contract. Pregnant women with gum disease have a 57% incidence of low birth weight babies and a 50% greater incidence of preterm deliveries. Researchers continue to examine these correlations to determine the relationship between gum disease and pregnancy.