Knowledge is Power! Gum Disease Pt. 3
In the first post, we examined the causes (plaque and inflammation). In the second, we went over the symptoms of each of the two stages of gum disease: Gingivitis and Periodontitis, as well as how each can be treated. Both can be prevented with oral hygiene and making and keeping twice yearly appointments with your dentist. We believe our patients do best when they understand the reasons behind the treatment they receive, and we’d like to provide that knowledge to our patients in Longmeadow, MA, as well as the public in general.
Gum disease is widespread, affecting millions of people in the US. Everyone can benefit from improvements in how they brush, floss, and rinse (the three components of a routine that will help you avoid trouble with your teeth, gums, and mouth) and making (and most importantly, keeping) dental appointments for cleanings and exams a priority. However, these alone may not be enough to stop gum disease before it starts. Ultimately, your chances of developing gum disease or avoiding it is unique to you, based upon the specific risk factors that you might present.
Some of these risk factors can be reduced significantly through changes in lifestyle. Other risk factors can’t be influenced, but being aware of them and monitoring them can also go a long way in keeping your gums free of disease.
Gum Disease Risk Factors: What’s Your Risk?
Nothing exists in a vacuum; gum diseases (like anything else) happen when a number of conditions are present. The chances of you developing gum disease is greatly influenced by the following risk factors. It should be noted that you can still develop gum disease even if you don’t recognize these risk factors in yourself, which is why your first and last line of defense for your teeth and gums is twice-daily brushing, flossing, and rinsing, with regular visits to your dentist.
Learn the Risks:
Using Tobacco of Any Kind:
Tobacco use is on the decline, but many still choose to do it. Smoking, chewing, or dipping, it doesn’t matter, all of them significantly increase your risk for developing gum disease. The negative effects of tobacco use are well-known, and gum disease is just one on a lengthy list.
Quitting won’t just reduce your chances of developing gum disease, but a number of other serious illnesses as well. Quitting can be difficult, but the complications of gum disease (or any other disease) can be much worse. Research your options and make a commitment to eliminate tobacco from your life.
Excess Stress and Anxiety:
Dealing with excessive stress and anxiety is not as straightforward as quitting tobacco use. Some stress is good because it can drive you to complete a project or achieve a goal, but too much stress is very detrimental to your health, especially if it is prolonged. Your immune system will fight gum disease, but if you’re experiencing chronic high levels of stress, your immune system will be compromised. The antibodies that fight infections won’t work as well, and infections can reach a point beyond your body’s ability to control it. As we discussed previously, the inflammation response will stay on until the infection is completely destroyed. If your immune system can’t get rid of the whole infection (due to weakness caused by stress), the infection lingers and inflammation becomes chronic (gum disease).
Stress also is a big contributor to the next risk factor on this list…
Bruxism or Teeth Grinding
Teeth grinding, or bruxism can increase your chances of developing gum disease. When you grind your teeth in your sleep, (or “brux”), the forces your teeth and the tissues and bones in your mouth experience are far greater than when you are awake. It’s possible that the pressure of your bite while bruxing increases from 300% to even 1000%!
All that force wears down your teeth, oral tissues, and bone, making gum disease work much faster as it makes its progress from Gingivitis to Periodontitis to tooth loss (or possibly worse).
Our practice can help with teeth grinding by providing you with a custom-made nightguard. A nightguard is similar to an athletic mouthguard and will protect your teeth at night from the damage caused by bruxism.
Being Overweight or Having a Poor Diet
It’s important to mention both obesity and poor diet separately. Although they both increase your risk for gum disease primarily by putting excess strain and pressure on your immune system and weakening its ability to fight infections, people who are not obese may believe that this risk factor doesn’t apply to them. Just being skinny doesn’t mean you have a good diet! Make sure you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs to operate effectively.
The likelihood of developing gum disease can be heavily influenced by your genetic makeup. Unlike the previous risk factors we’ve listed, you can’t do much about your genes (not yet, at least). There isn’t a test to see if you have a “gum disease gene” (if a specific gene even exists).
The best thing you can do is create a family history (if possible). Ask your parents and relatives if they’ve had any notable problems with gum disease; check into your family’s past if you can as well! If you learn that your family has a history of gum disease, your chances of developing it are much higher, even if you’re very good about keeping up your dental hygiene. Make sure your dentist knows your history to make examinations and checkups more effective (because they’ll know what they’re looking for!).
By the way, you don’t have to limit your research to gum disease: gather as much information about your family’s health history as you can! It can only help.
In previous posts, we’ve mentioned that the Centers for Disease Control estimate that 50% of adults over the age of 30 have gum disease. The older you get, the greater your chances of developing it. By the time you reach the ripe old age of 65, that number rises to 70%.
Older adults undergo many changes in their oral health that makes this happen; if you’re a person of “a certain age” or you consider yourself a “senior” (even if you’re a kid at heart), it’s very important that you take your oral health seriously.
Certain medications can increase your chances of developing gum disease. Make certain your dentist is aware of all the drugs you take regularly so that the plan for your care and treatment takes them into account.
Systemic diseases are those diseases that cause problems either in the whole body, or in multiple organs or systems within the body. Recent research has revealed an intriguing link between systemic disease and the inflammatory response. This new research helps to explain why gum disease (a form of chronic inflammation) is
- More likely in people with certain diseases, or
- More difficult to treat if present in people with certain diseases, or
- Makes the symptoms of those diseases more difficult to treat and manage
Links between gum disease have been found between diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, and cancer (including blood, kidney, and pancreatic cancers).
If you suffer from these, your risk of gum disease is much higher. As with medications, make sure your dentist is fully aware of your full health picture.
Don’t Wait For Your Teeth to Fall Out! Make an Appointment Now!
Thanks for reading!