Gum disease is an oral condition that affects many individuals worldwide. Its prevalence ranges from 20% to 50% of the global population. Medical researchers have conducted several studies of this common condition and have linked it to several systematic diseases; among them is heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide.
The anatomy of gum disease
The early onset of gum disease is characterized by mild inflammation of the gingiva or gums, a condition known as gingivitis. Gingivitis occurs when plaque, a sticky, bacteria-filled film, builds up around the teeth. The plaque build-up triggers the body’s defense mechanism resulting in inflammation of the gums.
If left untreated, gingivitis can progress to more severe inflammation of the gums or periodontitis. In periodontitis, untreated gums become infected. The infection is often evidenced by the presence of pus (a thick, yellowish fluid filled with bacteria, dead tissue, and cells) in the gums. The gum tissue and alveolar bone that supports the tooth gradually erode, ultimately resulting in tooth loss.
Symptoms of gum disease may include:
- Puffy, swollen, or receding gums
- Bad breath
- Gums that bleed when you brush your teeth
- Pus between teeth and gums
- Loose teeth
- Red, tender gums
- Pain when chewing
- Sensitive teeth
The link between gum disease and heart disease
The relationship between gum disease and heart disease has been studied for decades. While no direct causal relationship between the two is evident, medical researchers have confirmed that having gum disease can increase your risk of heart disease by approximately 20%. The risk increases with age and is particularly acute among individuals who are 65 years and older.
Inflammation is the link that connects gum disease and heart disease. The gum consists of many tiny blood vessels. Severe inflammation, which erodes the gums, can cause bacteria to pass through these tiny blood vessels into the bloodstream and to the heart, making it possible for inflammation to occur along blood vessels, including those in the heart. Inflammation can lead to hardening of the arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis that can result in heart attack and stroke. Individuals who have heart valve disease are at considerable risk, as bacteria can cause infection of the already compromised heart valves.
The risk of heart disease in patients with gum disease is further exacerbated by the presence of other proven risk factors of heart disease such as hypertension, diabetes, smoking, and high cholesterol.
There is no doubt that a more comprehensive study of the relationship that exists between gum disease and heart disease is needed for researchers to understand the connection better. Many people who have gum disease show no signs of heart disease, and likewise, there are many people who have heart defects and healthy gums.
Gum disease prevention
Gum disease is easily preventable. Yet, approximately 70% of Americans will develop gum disease at some point in their lives. Below are several steps you can take to prevent gum disease, improve overall oral health and reduce your risk of heart disease.
Practice good oral hygiene
Regularly brushing your teeth and flossing is important to remove plaque, reduce bacteria and maintain good oral hygiene. Health practitioners recommend brushing at least twice per day. Do so using a soft-bristled toothbrush in small circular motions for two to three minutes.
Flossing helps to remove food particles that are unreachable by brushing. Individuals are encouraged to floss at least once per day.
Fluoride is a substance produced from fluorine that naturally occurs in nature. It is typically found in toothpaste and added to drinking water. Fluoride has anti-plaque and anti-gingivitis properties that make it ideal for preventing gum disease and tooth decay.
Visit a dentist regularly
Regular visits to a dentist provide an added level of protection for your teeth and gums. A dentist can conduct a more thorough cleaning of the mouth to remove plaque and tartar build-up, check for abnormalities and prevent any abnormalities found from worsening. Individuals are encouraged to visit a dentist at least twice per year or as directed by their dental practitioner.
Do not smoke
Smoking is a major risk factor for gum disease and heart disease. Quit the habit. Smoking masks the signs of gum disease weakens the body’s immune system and makes it harder for infected gums to heal.
Gum disease prevention and treatment in Provo
Gum disease, if not treated early and thoroughly, can result in tooth loss, heart disease, and reduced quality of life. If you want to prevent or treat gum disease, contact us at Sundance Implant and Periodontal Center in Provo. We offer a range of dental services, including the prevention and treatment of gum disease. Our courteous and well-trained staff, led by Dr. Nicholson, a board-certified periodontist, will work with you in a comfortable environment to address any dental issues you may have.