What is periodontal disease?
Periodontal (gum) disease is an infection of the tissue that surrounds and supports the teeth. Plaque is the sticky film of bacteria that is brushed and flossed away with proper oral care. When left on the teeth, plaque produces toxins that attack below the gum line in the sulcus, a shallow V-shaped crevice between the tooth and gums. This causes the bond between teeth and gums to break down. If left untreated, periodontal disease may also cause tooth loss.
Causes and Stages of Gum Disease
Gum disease is often caused by a buildup of plaque, a film composed of bacteria that coats the teeth after eating. Plaque that is not removed by brushing the teeth can eventually irritate the gums. When left untreated, gum disease can progress in the following two stages:
Gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease. At this stage the gums may be swollen, red and inflamed and may bleed easily. Gingivitis can usually be easily treated by a thorough cleaning by a dentist to remove plaque, and proper follow-up care. Patients that maintain proper oral hygiene at home can keep gums healthy and reduce bacteria build-up.
If left untreated, gingivitis transitions into periodontitis which is a more serious stage of gum disease. At this stage, the gums are extremely inflamed and start to pull away from the teeth. Teeth may begin to loosen due to bones and ligaments breaking down.
Gum Disease Risk Factors
The main cause of periodontal (gum) disease is plaque, but other factors affect the health of your gums.
Studies indicate that older people have the highest rates of periodontal disease. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that over 70% of Americans 65 and older have periodontitis.
Tobacco use is linked with many serious illnesses such as cancer, lung disease and heart disease, as well as numerous other health problems. Tobacco users also are at increased risk for periodontal disease. Studies have shown that tobacco use may be one of the most significant risk factors in the development and progression of periodontal disease.
Research has indicated that some people may be genetically susceptible to gum disease. Despite aggressive oral care habits, these people may be more likely to develop periodontal disease. Identifying these people with a genetic test before they even show signs of the disease and getting them into early intervention treatment may help them keep their teeth for a lifetime.
Stress is linked to many serious conditions such as hypertension, cancer, and numerous other health problems. Stress also is a risk factor for periodontal disease. Research demonstrates that stress can make it more difficult for the body to fight off infection, including periodontal diseases.
Some drugs, such as oral contraceptives, anti-depressants, and certain heart medicines, can affect your oral health. Just as you notify your pharmacist and other health care providers of all medicines you are taking and any changes in your overall health, you should also inform your dental care provider.
Clenching or Grinding Your Teeth
Clenching or grinding your teeth can put excess force on the supporting tissues of the teeth and could speed up the rate at which these periodontal tissues are destroyed.
Other Systemic Diseases
Other systemic diseases that interfere with the body’s inflammatory system may worsen the condition of the gums. These include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Poor Nutrition and Obesity
A diet low in important nutrients can compromise the body’s immune system and make it harder for the body to fight off infection. Because periodontal disease begins as an infection, poor nutrition can worsen the condition of your gums. In addition, research has shown that obesity may increase the risk of periodontal disease.