Periodontal (gum) disease can weaken gum attachment and cause bone deterioration that eventually leads to tooth loss. But its detrimental effects can also extend beyond the mouth and worsen other health problems like heart disease or diabetes.
While the relationship between gum disease and other health conditions isn't fully understood, there does seem to be a common denominator: chronic inflammation. Inflammation is a natural defense mechanism the body uses to isolate damaged or diseased tissues from healthier ones. But if the infection and inflammation become locked in constant battle, often the case with gum disease, then the now chronic inflammation can actually damage tissue.
Inflammation is also a key factor in conditions like heart disease and diabetes, as well as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis. Inflammation contributes to plaque buildup in blood vessels that impedes circulation and endangers the heart. Diabetes-related inflammation can contribute to slower wound healing and blindness.
Advanced gum disease can stimulate the body's overall inflammatory response. Furthermore, the breakdown of gum tissues makes it easier for bacteria and other toxins from the mouth to enter the bloodstream and spread throughout the body to trigger further inflammation. These reactions could make it more difficult to control any inflammatory condition like diabetes or heart disease, or increase your risk for developing one.
To minimize this outcome, you should see a dentist as soon as possible if you notice reddened, swollen or bleeding gums. The sooner you begin treatment, the less impact it may have on your overall health. And because gum disease can be hard to notice in its early stages, be sure you visit the dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups.
The most important thing you can do, though, is to try to prevent gum disease from occurring in the first place. You can do this by brushing twice and flossing once every day to keep dental plaque, the main trigger for gum disease, from accumulating on tooth surfaces.
Guarding against gum disease will certainly help you maintain healthy teeth and gums. But it could also help protect you from—or lessen the severity of—other serious health conditions.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating gum disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
Cardiovascular disease and periodontal (gum) disease are two different conditions with their own set of symptoms and outcomes. But they do share one common element: inflammation. In fact, this otherwise normal defensive response of the body might actually create a link between them.
When tissues become damaged from disease or injury, the body triggers inflammation to isolate them from the rest of the body. This allows these tissues to heal without affecting other tissues. If inflammation becomes chronic, however, it can damage rather than protect the body.
This happens with both cardiovascular disease and gum disease. In the former, low-density lipoproteins (LDL or “bad cholesterol”) in animal fat leave behind remnants that can build up within arteries. This stimulates inflammation of the vessel’s inner linings, which accelerates hardening and increases the risk of heart attack or stroke.
With gum disease, bacteria living in a thin, built-up film of food particles on the teeth called plaque infect the gum tissues, which in turn trigger inflammation. A struggle ensures between the infection and inflammation, causing the gum tissues to weaken and detach from the teeth. Coupled with erosion of the supporting bone, the risk of tooth loss dramatically increases.
Recent research now seems to indicate the inflammatory responses from these two diseases may not occur in isolation. There is evidence that gum inflammation could aggravate inflammation in the cardiovascular system, and vice-versa. The research, though, points to some possible good news: treating inflammation in either disease could have a positive effect on the other.
Making heart-friendly lifestyle changes like losing extra weight (especially around the waist), improving nutrition, and exercising regularly can help reduce LDL and lower the risk of arterial inflammation. Likewise for your gums, daily oral hygiene and visiting the dentist at least twice a year reduces the risk for gum disease. And at the first sign of a gum infection—swollen, reddened or bleeding gums—seeking immediate treatment will stop it and reduce any occurring inflammation.
Taking steps to prevent or reduce inflammation brought on by both of these diseases could improve your health and save your life.
If you would like more information on how your oral health affects your whole body, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Link between Heart & Gum Disease.”
In 2016, voters in three states—California, Massachusetts and Nevada—joined Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia in legalizing the use of recreational marijuana. These referenda moved the country closer to what may soon be a monumental political showdown between the states and the federal government, which still categorizes marijuana as a controlled substance.
But there’s another angle to this story often overshadowed by the political jousting: is increased marijuana use a good thing for your health and overall physical well-being?
When it comes to your dental health, the answer might be no. The Journal of Periodontology recently published a study that included frequent marijuana users showing increased signs of periodontal (gum) disease. This harmful bacterial infection triggered by plaque buildup can cause weakening of gum attachment to teeth and create the formation of large voids between teeth and gums called periodontal pockets. Left untreated, the disease can also cause supporting bone loss and eventually tooth loss.
The study looked at the dental treatment data of over 1,900 adults of which around one-quarter used marijuana once a month for at least a year. Marijuana users in the study on average had 24.5% of pocket sites around their teeth with depths of at least eight millimeters (an indication of advanced gum disease). In contrast, non-users averaged around 18.9% sites.
To be sure, there are several risk factors for gum disease like genetics, oral hygiene (or lack thereof), structural problems like poor tooth position or even systemic conditions elsewhere in the body. This published study only poses the possibility that marijuana use could be a risk factor for gum disease that should be taken seriously. It’s worth asking the question of whether using marijuana may not be good for your teeth and gums.
There’s only one way to effectively halt the progressive damage of periodontal (gum) disease — completely remove the bacterial plaque and hardened deposits (calculus) from above and below the gum line that are causing the infection. Although we can accomplish this in most cases with hand instruments called scalers, ultra-sonic equipment or both, some cases may require periodontal surgery to access and clean deeper “pockets” of infection.
As this damaging disease progresses, the supporting bone dissolves and the gum tissues will begin to detach from a tooth, leaving an open space known as a “periodontal pocket.” Besides plaque and calculus pus may also form as a result of the infection. All of this material must be removed from the pocket before healing and, hopefully, tissue reattachment can begin.
Shallow pockets near the gum line are usually accessed and cleaned with hand instruments. But deeper pockets (5 millimeters or greater in depth) may require a surgical procedure to completely clean the area also allowing for regenerative procedures to be done to regain attachment. This will reduce the depth of the periodontal pockets that will make them more accessible for future cleanings and maintenance. Flap surgery is a common type of such a procedure: a small opening (similar to the flap of a letter envelope) is surgically created in the gum tissue to expose the area of infection around the tooth root and bone.
There are also other types of periodontal surgery for repairing and stimulating regeneration of damaged gum tissues. Using grafts or other enhancements, these plastic surgical techniques are especially useful where gum tissues have receded above the natural gum line, leaving more of the underlying tooth below the enamel exposed to disease. These procedures have become more effective in recent years with the development of specialized technologies called “barrier membranes” and biologic growth factors. These materials have allowed bone grafts to be more successful as this technology is engineered for targeted tissue growth and repair, and then dissolve at an appropriate point in the regeneration process.
Periodontal surgery isn’t appropriate for every situation. Still, these procedures do play an important role for many patients to put a halt to the damage caused by gum disease.
If you would like more information on surgical procedures for gum disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Periodontal Surgery: Where Art Meets Science.”
If you’re over age 30 there’s a fifty percent chance you have periodontal (gum) disease—and you may not even know it. Without treatment this often “silent” bacterial infection could cause you to lose gum coverage, supporting bone volume or eventually your teeth.
That’s not to say there can’t be noticeable symptoms like swollen, red, bleeding or painful gums. But the surest way to know if you have gum disease, as well as how advanced it is, is to have us examine your gums with manual probing below the gum line.
Using a long metal device called a periodontal probe, we can detect if you’ve developed periodontal pockets. These are gaps created when the diseased gum’s attachment to teeth has weakened and begun to pull away. The increased void may become inflamed (swollen) and filled with infection.
During an exam we insert the probe, which has markings indicating depths in millimeters, into the naturally occurring space between tooth and gums called the sulcus. Normally, the sulcus extends only about 1-3 mm deep, so being able to probe deeper is a sign of a periodontal pocket. How deep we can probe can also tell us about the extent of the infection: if we can probe to 5 mm, you may have early to mild gum disease; 5-7 mm indicates moderate gum disease; and anything deeper is a sign of advanced disease.
Knowing periodontal pocket depth helps guide our treatment strategy. Our main goal is to remove bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that collects on teeth and is the main cause and continuing fuel for the infection. In mild to moderate cases this may only require the use of hand instruments called scalers to manually remove plaque from tooth surfaces.
If, however, our periodontal probing indicates deeper, advanced gum disease, we may need to include surgical procedures to access these infected areas through the gum tissue. By knowing the depth and extent of any periodontal pockets, we can determine whether or not to use these more invasive techniques.
Like many other health conditions, discovering gum disease early could help you avoid these more advanced procedures and limit the damage caused by the infection. Besides daily brushing and flossing to remove plaque and regular dental checkups, keep watch for signs of swollen or bleeding gums and contact us for an appointment as soon as possible. And be aware that if you smoke, your gums will not likely bleed or swell—that could make diagnosis more difficult.
If you would like more information on treating gum disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Understanding Periodontal Pockets.”