At Pioneer Dental Care in Oregon City, Oregon, we’re very concerned about gum disease.
You might think that’s because of the impact that gum disease has on people’s teeth and gums. You’re partly right, but research is showing that advanced gum disease, or periodontitis, can have a powerful impact on your overall health.
How Gum Disease Begins
All of our mouths have colonies of bacteria. That might sound a bit gross, but they’re actually supposed to be there. Research has identified colonies of bacteria in our digestive systems that are very both beneficial and even vital to us. These digestive colonies have been termed the “gut microbiome.”
The bacterial colonies in our mouths are the oral microbiome, and we’re just beginning to learn about their roles in human life.
There’s a protein in our saliva that some of the mouth bacteria can bind with. That creates a thin, sticky, invisible film called dental plaque. Normally, bacteria get washed off the teeth and gums by saliva and by what we drink. When plaque forms, those bacteria are held close to the teeth and gums. That’s where problems start.
The bacteria in plaque feed off the sugars in our diet and produce acids as waste products. Those acids begin to erode the enamel that covers our teeth, which can lead to cavities. The acids also irritate the gums, and that’s where gum disease begins.
Irritated gums change from their normal healthy pink to a dusky red or even purple. Instead of being firm, they can become swollen, puffy, and tender. Your gums may bleed when you brush or floss. That’s how most people first notice that something is wrong with their gums.
You may also develop bad breath or even a bad taste in your mouth that nothing seems to help.
Eventually, your gums may begin to pull away from your teeth.
Gum Disease Prevention
You can help prevent this first stage of gum disease, known as gingivitis, with regular brushing, flossing, and professional cleanings and exams. Plaque is pretty easy to remove, but it begins to re-form quickly, so brushing twice a day and flossing once are essential.
However, it’s easy for even dedicated brushers to miss a tiny crevice or two, which can lead to the next stage of gum disease – periodontitis.
When Things Get Serious
Left alone for long enough, plaque hardens into something call dental tartar, or calculus. Tartar is even harder than your dental enamel, which is the hardest naturally occurring substance in the body. There’s no way you can remove tartar by brushing and flossing.
With tartar, bacteria are constantly held in contact with the teeth and gums. Because the gums tend to pull away from the teeth, tartar can form below the gumline. Your teeth don’t have enamel below the gumline. The softer dentin layer is exposed and it doesn’t resist decay nearly as well as enamel. When bacteria get to the interior of the tooth, you have a dental infection.
Eventually, that infection can degrade the roots of the tooth, causing it to fall out. And, the bacteria spread even further, into the bone and your blood stream.
This is periodontitis which is the severe stage of gum disease,. Periodontitis is treatable. However, treatment is a lot more involved, possibly more painful, and certainly more expensive than brushing, flossing, and having regular dental cleanings and examinations.
When Dental Infections Travel
Losing teeth and having infected gums is bad enough, but those out-of-control bacteria aren’t supposed to get to other areas of the the body. Studies have linked dental infections to:
- Heart problems
- Lung problems
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Colorectal cancer
No one can say for sure right now, but it seems very likely that more and more health conditions will be linked to dental infections. The health of your mouth can have a tremendous impact on your overall health.
Given that about 70 percent of adults over age 65 have gum disease, prevention becomes even more image as we age.
Take Action Now Against Gum Disease
Gum disease is treatable in almost all cases, but preventing gum disease is by far your best option. Prevention begins with you. Regular and thorough brushing and flossing are your best weapons against gum disease. By themselves, though, brushing and flossing can’t guarantee that gum disease won’t form in your mouth.
All of us at Pioneer Dental Care are committed to helping you have your healthiest mouth and your most beautiful smile. We look forward to your visit.