Periodontics is concerned with the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of gum diseases. Periodontists may perform a root canal or carry out other periodontal, or perio, treatments if your gum health begins to fail.
Overview: The Dangers of Gum Disease
Gum disease can become a serious problem for one’s oral health. Bacterially-infected gums and soft tissues, if left untreated, can deteriorate to the point of tooth loss. But studies point to even larger dangers.
Let’s start with a definition. In its earliest, mildest form, gum disease is known as gingivitis – an inflammation of gum tissue caused by a buildup of plaque (the sticky film of bacteria that forms on the teeth after eating). At this stage, gum disease is characterized by red, swollen gums that sometimes bleed. It’s generally reversible by daily flossing and brushing.
Gingivitis, however, can develop into a much more serious form of disease known as periodontitis. Periodontitis occurs when plaque turns into a harder substance at the gum line called calculus or tartar. When tartar builds up in the v-shaped crevice between tooth and gums (the sulcus), periodontitis can develop and damage the supporting tissues of the tooth, resulting in possible extraction.
Gum Disease and Overall Health: The Mouth-Body Connection
Gum disease is inflammatory in nature. Research indicates that there is an association between gum disease and other inflammatory diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory diseases. There is a mouth-body connection that many dentists and physicians watch closely for the overall improvement of their patient’s health.
Gum disease in those with high risk factors for other inflammatory conditions can likely exacerbate those conditions. For example, the oral bacteria that cause gum disease can be transmitted to heart tissue and lung tissue either through inhalation or through the blood stream. In the heart, this can increase arterial inflammation or attach to fatty plaques in the coronary arteries, leading to heart attack or stroke. People with chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) or pneumonia can see their conditions worsened by the inhalation of oral bacteria originating with gum disease.
Diabetics are more likely to have gum disease than non-diabetics due to their elevated risk of infection and compromised ability to recover. But they may also suffer diabetic complications from having gum disease. Severe gum disease can increase blood sugar, affecting already difficult blood glucose management issues in diabetics.
Pregnant women are at risk of premature birth and low birth weight due to gum disease. Some studies have suggested that pregnant women with periodontal disease are more likely to deliver prematurely at a low birth weight. Women with osteoporosis may also suffer greater oral bone loss when gum disease is present.
Any serious condition should be brought to the attention of your dentist, but if you suspect gum disease, and you’re at risk for, or have any other type of inflammatory disease, make your condition known immediately. Detecting gum disease early is the best bet for avoiding more serious complications and dangers of gum disease down the road.
Gum Disease and Diabetes
For those affected by diabetes – almost 8% of the American population by some estimates – related health problems can complicate your life. Potential circulatory, vision, kidney, and nerve issues require diabetics to carefully monitor their blood glucose levels and manage their disease. But periodontal disease, or gum disease, is also a significant related illness for diabetics to keep in mind.
Diabetes is a disease that affects how your body regulates blood sugar (glucose). Diabetics have too much glucose in their blood and, left unmanaged, that condition can wreak havoc on many of the body’s delicate systems.
High glucose levels in saliva make diabetics particularly susceptible to periodontal disease. Bacteria can thrive in that glucose-rich environment, which leads to plaque, an acid-producing film that can permanently damage teeth and gums. Diabetes also lowers the body’s ability to fight infection, permitting periodontal disease to worsen rapidly.
These factors make it essential for diabetics to learn to manage their disease diligently. The incidence of periodontal disease in patients with inadequate blood sugar control is higher than in those with good control of their diabetes.
Warning Signs and Prevention
Warning signs of periodontal disease include the following:
- Swollen, red, or tender gums that bleed easily
- Gums that are receding from the teeth
- Changes in your bite or the way your teeth fit together
- Changes in the fit of partial dentures
Left unchecked, periodontal disease can damage the gums and bone supporting the teeth and lead to tooth loss.
To further prevent periodontal disease, diabetics should:
- Brush and floss their teeth daily
- Schedule regular dental check ups and cleanings
- Maintain a balanced and healthy diet, particularly with regard to blood sugar management
- Communicate clearly with your dentist about your condition and whether or not it is under control
Dry mouth (Xerostomia) is a common condition among patients with diabetes. This also can lead to periodontal disease because saliva aids in the washing away of bacteria-producing food particles. Your dentist can recommend a saliva substitute as well as fluoride washes to compensate for a reduction in saliva.
Diabetes and periodontal disease are both manageable. By maintaining healthy oral hygiene habits, from cleaning to diet, diabetics can ensure a healthy defense against periodontal disease.