Half of American adults over the age of 30 have some degree of periodontal (gum) disease, according to recent findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Multiple studies estimate that between 48 and 50 percent, or approximately 65 million American adults, have mild, moderate or severe periodontitis, the more advanced form of periodontal disease. In adults 65 and older, prevalence rates increase to 70 percent. Literally millions of teeth every year are unnecessarily lost to gum disease.
Periodontal disease is caused by bacterial infections that attack gums, ligaments and bone caused by plaque below the gum line. The bacteria (plaque) create toxins which irritate the gums and bone and can eventually lead to tooth loss. More sobering, the bacteria and toxins that build up under the gum can enter the blood stream, travel throughout the body and cause serious health problems including: stroke, respiratory diseases, heart disease, diabetes, stomach ulcers, osteoporosis, arthritis, infertility, prostatitis and pre-term births.
Besides simply affecting your mouth, causing bad breath, tooth loss and embarrassment, periodontal disease can have wider reaching effects on the body.
Women who are pregnant are especially at risk. Periodontal disease can lead to premature delivery, and worse, the potential for a stillborn baby. There is an old wives tale that you lose a tooth for each baby. This may or may not be true in every case, but the point is that pregnancy can cause an underlying condition to worsen. 75 % of women experience some level of gingival bleeding while carrying a child. In more severe cases, bacteria from periodontal disease can travel through the bloodstream, cross the placenta, enter the amniotic fluid and cause a neonatal infection. This infection can be what triggers a premature delivery or stillbirth.
In an Australian study conducted in 2011 that involved 3416 women, the 26 % of women with periodontal disease were not able to conceive a child for 7 months, while the group without gum disease took an average of 2 months to become pregnant. Research is ongoing, but these results were definitely interesting. Periodontal disease can affect the ability to conceive.
For men with periodontal disease, a recent study published in the Journal of Periodontology found a significant connection between periodontal disease and inflammation of the prostate (prostatitis). Also, the National Cancer Institute states that men with gum disease have a 60 % higher chance of being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
For both men and women, periodontal disease can cause faster progression of arterial disease due to systemic inflammation and heightened immune system response. Inflammation has been shown to prematurely break down arterial walls, leading to the plaque buildup that reduces blood flow, causing many associated diseases.
Some of the warning signs of periodontal disease are gums that bleed easily, red, swollen or tender gums, bad breath, gums that have pulled away from the teeth, loose teeth, and changes in the fit of partial dentures.
With all of this bad news, is there any hope? Yes! Periodontal disease can be very effectively managed. Management starts with regular dental visits. Your dentist will do a thorough exam, diagnose your condition, prescribe the appropriate treatment, and educate you on home care. Your health is worth it!