For centuries, humans have known the importance of a healthy mouth and healthy gums. However, in light of recent findings showing a link between periodontal disease and your overall health, it is more important than ever to take good care of your mouth. Research shows that periodontal disease is associated with many for serious medical conditions such as heart disease, pulmonary disease and other systemic problems. Pregnant women with the disease are at a higher risk for miscarriage and premature birth complications.
Periodontal disease starts with the formation of plaque, which can harden into tartar. Tartar harbors bacteria, and makes removing the bacteria with a toothbrush nearly impossible. As the bacteria grow and multiply, certain pathogenic bacteria emerge and make periodontal disease more likely. Periodontal disease can begin with a mild bacterial infection that festers between the gum and the roots of your teeth. This stage, called gingivitis, it is often painless. Signs of gingivitis include redness, swollen gums, and occasional pain. If left untreated, it can lead to periodontitis which involves destruction of the underlying bone. Severe periodontal disease results in tooth loss and a wide range of overall health problems. Advanced signs of the disease include bad breath, red and swollen gums, bleeding gums, pain when choosing, sensitive teeth and tooth loss.
In periodontitis, the infection forces the gums to pull away from the teeth, forming “pockets” that harbor infection. Bacterial toxins will break down soft tissues. Your immune system battles the bacteria with enzymes that also break down the bone and connective tissue that hold your teeth in place. Eventually, the connective tissue is destroyed leading to tooth loss.
Periodontal treatment involves removing the bacteria and restoring the mouth to a state of health. A periodontist is a dentist that specializes in gum disease. Procedures are intended to remove the bacteria below the gum line and prevent further soft-tissue damage. Extreme cases of periodontal disease may require surgery. Sometimes, the bone and gum tissues which have been destroyed by the disease can be grafted to regenerate the lost tissue. If there is loss of teeth, dental implants should be considered.
Although we don’t yet fully understand the exact link between periodontal disease and other systemic health conditions, we know that infection in your mouth leads to an altered immune response. Bacterial present in the mouth can enter the bloodstream, and cause damage to the lining in the arteries. Further studies are ongoing to help clarify the exact relationship between these important conditions. Meanwhile, excellent oral health is prudent to help ensure your body is as healthy as possible.
To keep your mouth and your body health, see your dentist every three to six months for a routine cleaning and check-up. In addition, brush twice a day, floss and use an antiseptic mouth rinse. Because periodontal disease is also linked to tobacco use and poor diet, you should be careful to eat healthy foods and avoid smoking. By maintaining excellent oral health, and healthy habits, you increase the chances of living a long, healthy life.
Dr. Steven Berkowitz DDS MS is a reknowned periodontist practicing in the Greater Miami area. Miami Periodontist