You have probably been told all your life that you need to see your dentist twice every year to make sure your teeth are in good condition. However, your teeth are just part of the equation, along with healthy gums. The health risks related to gum disease can be severe, but regular visits to Dr. Wendy Willoughby, DDS in Asheville, NC can help you prevent the consequences of periodontitis.
What Are the Risks of Gum Disease?
Periodontal disease, like most health conditions, has differing severity levels, with gingivitis being the most minor form of the condition. The risks associated with gingivitis include bad breath, bleeding gums, painful gums, loose teeth, and sensitive teeth. This early form of periodontal disease can easily be prevented by brushing your teeth at least twice per day, flossing at least once per day, and visiting your dentist for cleanings twice a year.
Numerous studies have shown that people with periodontal disease are at a higher risk of developing heart disease. While it’s not completely clear how periodontitis increases the risk of heart-related conditions, experts believe it is related to inflammation. When your gums become inflamed, it’s because your body is sending an immune response to combat microbial invaders, but over time, chronic inflammation leads to atherosclerosis, or the clogging of arteries, which is a leading cause of heart disease.
There is no current recommendation that treating periodontitis will prevent heart disease, but the link between the two conditions is so compelling that dentists agree that ensuring patients’ gums stay healthy can only improve the odds that they will not suffer from heart-related conditions. Gingivitis can be reversed and treated through regular brushing, flossing, and dental visits. More advanced periodontal disease requires more invasive solutions, but it, too, can be cured.
It’s not known if periodontal disease is a risk factor for developing diabetes or if people who have diabetes are at higher risk of developing periodontal disease, but either way, there is enough of a connection that medical professionals advise regular teeth cleanings for both diabetics and non-diabetics. If your blood sugar is uncontrolled, the amount of sugar present in your saliva provides the ideal environment for bacteria to not only grow, but to flourish.
These bacteria combine with food to create plaque, which, if not removed, leads to pockets of infection between your gums and teeth. Eventually, this bacteria that is below your gum line, will break down the tissue and bone surrounding your teeth. Without treatment, you run the risk of losing your teeth when there is no longer enough bone to support them. As such, it’s critical to both control your sugar levels and have your teeth cleaned regularly.
There is a growing body of evidence that advanced periodontitis could increase the risk of patients developing dementia later in life. While the link between gum issues and dementia is not direct, scientists believe that the bacteria in your mouth could be the cause of systemic health issues throughout your body, including in your brain. Further studies are necessary to determine if the treatment of periodontitis can prevent dementia, but why wait to find out when periodontitis is already treatable?
Additionally, there are different types of dementia, one of which is vascular dementia. This is the type that’s more affected by periodontal disease than Alzheimer’s disease. Vascular dementia is caused by restricted blood flow to the brain, and because inflammation of the gums can lead to atherosclerosis of the arteries, it only makes sense that preventing periodontal disease can reduce your risk of developing vascular dementia as you age. Vascular dementia is characterized by deficiencies in reasoning, judgment, and memory
This condition is an autoimmune disease that’s characterized by painful, inflamed joints. As with diabetes, it’s not yet known whether periodontitis causes rheumatoid arthritis or if people with RA are more likely to have gum problems. However, at least one study has shown that patients suffering from RA experienced less pain and stiffness in their joints after being treated for periodontal disease. This indicates that a reduction of inflammation in the mouth can lead to a reduction of inflammation elsewhere.
Some studies have indicated a link between periodontitis and premature birth by showing that women with periodontal disease are more likely to deliver their babies before reaching full term. One recent research project found that treating pregnant women for periodontal disease helped them carry their babies to term, and another showed that women who were treated for gum problems before their 35th week of pregnancy were less likely to deliver their babies early than those who were not treated.
The scientists conducting this research believe that the bacteria involved in periodontal disease passes into the bloodstream and affects the unborn fetus. These bacteria stimulate the production of cytokines and prostaglandins, which are substances involved in stimulating labor. Additionally, these substances are responsible for the rupture of the uterine membrane, and once that happens, the baby is usually delivered right away, even if it’s too early. There’s no reason to risk a premature birth by not having periodontal disease treated.
There are so many potentially serious health conditions that could stem from periodontal disease that it doesn’t make sense to put off treating it. Contact Dr. Wendy Willoughby, DDS in Asheville, NC today to schedule your next teeth cleaning and prevent periodontal disease.