Gums and Overall Health
We all know that prevention is one of the keys to maintaining overall health.
We exercise and watch what we eat to help reduce our risk of heart attack, stroke and certain cancers. In the same way, we should take good care of our oral health now to prevent gum disease and tooth loss later.
Why is this so important? The reasons are much more than cosmetic. While we once believed the worst outcome of gum disease was tooth loss, we now know that oral health matters from head to toe.
periodontal (gum and bone) disease may be a risk factor for a number of serious health conditions. In recent studies, gum disease has been linked to:
- heart disease and stroke
- pneumonia and other respiratory diseases
- premature, low birth weight deliveries
How is this possible? For those with gum disease, the simple act of brushing the teeth or chewing can injure gum tissue, allowing bacteria to enter the bloodstream. It is believed that these bacteria may travel to other parts of the body, potentially worsening or causing other types of health problems.
How Gum Disease Develops
According to some estimates, as many as 75 per cent of adults over the age of 30 may suffer from some degree of gum disease.
Gum disease begins with the formation of hard and soft deposits on the surface of the teeth. Over time, a build-up of bacteria called plaque collects at the gum line, eventually hardening on the teeth into calcium deposits called calculus (tartar).
Periodontal disease starts out as something most people have heard of: gingivitis. This is an inflammatory disease that affects the hard and soft structures supporting your teeth. You’ll first notice your gums becoming red and swollen, which is the natural response from the body, but left untreated it can sometimes turn into something called periodontitis. This is where the gums pull away from the teeth and the tissue becomes destroyed
If unchecked, periodontal disease can lead to complete destruction of the tooth’s supporting tissues, abscesses and, ultimately, loss of the tooth.
Gum Disease and Your Heart
Research suggests gum disease may put you at increased risk of heart disease and stroke. In fact, according to some studies, the presence of gum disease could be a significant risk factor, comparable to smoking, family history and elevated cholesterol.
It is also believed that gum disease may contribute to infective endocarditis, a condition in which the interior lining of the heart and heart valves become inflamed, possibly due to a bacterial infection. If left untreated, this condition could lead to a fatal infection.
Gum Disease and Your Lungs
Traditionally, we have thought of smoking, advanced age and the presence of other health conditions that weaken the immune system as risk factors for lung disease. But scientists now believe that gum disease may also be a significant risk factor, increasing the risk of respiratory infections, and potentially worsening the severity of pneumonia, bronchitis, emphysema and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
Bacterial respiratory infections are caused by the aspiration or inhaling of germs from the mouth and throat into the lungs. When these germs reach the lower respiratory tract, they may cause infections or worsen existing lung conditions.
Studies have also found that bacteria found in the oral cavity can travel to the lungs and cause diseases such as pneumonia, particularly in people with gum disease.
Gum Disease and Diabetes
We have learned that people with diabetes are more prone to a variety of bacterial infections, including gum disease, than people without diabetes. Indeed, the relationship between gum disease and diabetes may be even stronger. Having gum disease may in fact worsen an existing case of diabetes, or put you at increased risk for the complications associated with diabetes.
Gum Disease and Pregnancy
Research has linked gum disease in women to an increased risk of premature delivery.
What is the connection? Researchers believe that bacteria from diseased gums enter the bloodstream during eating or brushing. These bacteria may
then affect the levels of prostaglandin (or PGE2), a biological fluid naturally present in a woman’s body. When the level of PGE2 rises significantly, usually in the ninth month of pregnancy, labor begins.
But in women with serious gum disease, the level of PGE2 may rise too soon, triggering early labor.
What Can I Do?
If you have, or are at risk for one or more of these health conditions, it is particularly important to pay attention to your oral health. The good news is that with regular, proper oral care, gum disease can be controlled or even reverse.
At Bells Corners Family Dentistry, we can treat gingivitis, as well as provide treatment for periodontal disease. We offer scaling and root planning, in which the infected surface of the root is cleaned. For severe cases, we are able to provide surgical procedures including pocket reduction, crown lengthening and aesthetic-crown lengthening.
Crown lengthening is a surgical procedure performed by a dentist to expose a greater amount of tooth structure for the purpose of subsequently restoring the tooth prosthetically. Aesthetic crown-lengthening, typically in the upper front teeth, is indicated to reduce excessive gum tissue surrounding the teeth in order to improve a ‘gummy smile’ appearance.
Gum grafting is a treatment we provide in order to increase the amount of gingiva (pink gums) around the tooth area. This will help to prevent further recession of the gums and will also help cover the exposed root. If your gums are receding and it goes untreated, it can lead to further recession which will negatively affect your oral health..