Many people don’t realize it, but the gums play an integral role in the support of our teeth. Not only do they cover the sensitive and delicate tooth roots, but they also contain sockets in which our teeth sit. The gum tissue then grows around the base of each tooth to secure it in place. Unfortunately, our gums are just as likely to be affected by problems as our teeth are, and by far the biggest issue that can affect the health and function of our gums is known as periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease, which is also known by other names including gum disease, gingivitis and periodontitis, is an inflammatory condition that primarily affects the gum tissue, but that is progressive and can eventually spread to compromise the health of other areas of the body. Here’s what you need to know about this condition and the impact that it can have on your overall health and wellbeing.
Periodontal disease primarily occurs as a result of poor oral hygiene. Dentists recommend that we brush our teeth twice each day for at least two minutes each time, and this is for good reason – to remove any plaque that has accumulated on our teeth. Plaque is a thin, sticky, colorless film that is produced by the interaction between sugars in the food and drink we consume, and the bacteria that is naturally present in our mouths. Plaque is highly acidic which can lead to dental decay. However, it also contains countless bacteria which can cause inflammation, infection and more. It can take just 20 minutes from eating or drinking for plaque to start to formulate.
When plaque isn’t removed from the teeth, the bacteria can spread onto the gum tissue where they cause irritation and soreness, and this signals the earliest stage in the development of periodontal disease.
Although poor oral hygiene is the biggest cause of periodontal disease, there are other factors which can also increase your risk of developing the condition. These include:
Experiencing hormone changes such as in pregnancy or menopause
Compromised immune system
Being over the age of 50
Taking certain medications
Poor nutrition and overall health
Periodontal disease is a progressive condition, and this means that it can get significantly worse and have much wider consequences if left untreated.
As gum disease progresses, the bacteria cause a range of different problems to develop. In addition to the inflamed and bleeding gums that occur at the very beginning of gum disease, the bacteria soon start to cause infections that result in painful abscesses that affect the teeth and mouth. The bacteria also cause the gum tissue to deteriorate, pulling away from the teeth and exposing the underlying structures including the root. This makes the teeth far less secure, and in some cases, they may fall out completely.
The bacteria also affect the viability of the jaw, and without tooth roots to stimulate the bone, this may deteriorate too, causing the face to change shape and any dentures and similar restorations may no longer fit properly. Finally, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream and use it to pass to other areas of the body, including the major organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys. Studies have found that there is a definitive link between periodontal disease and the development of certain health conditions – some of which can be extremely serious. These include:
High blood pressure
This is believed to be primarily due to chronic inflammation, which is a common factor in patients of a wide range of severe health conditions as well as periodontal disease.