What Is Gum (Periodontal) Disease?
Gum disease is caused by two things: 1. the presence of bacteria in the mouth and 2. places for that bacteria to congregate and stay. Most often, bacteria collect on buildup (calculus) around and below the gum line. This buildup causes inflammation and irritation, triggering an immune response by the body. The mildest form of gum (periodontal) disease is called gingivitis. Left unchecked, the condition can create periodontal “pockets” or areas where the bacteria can collect deeper under the gum line. Gingivitis can progress to periodontitis, where the bacteria, inflammation and the body’s continual response can actually break down the connection between the gums and the teeth.
What are symptoms of gum disease?
In many cases, people in the early stages of gum disease may not experience any pain or may have very mild symptoms that are easily ignored. Some of the more severe symptoms include:
- Bad breath that won’t go away
- Red or swollen gums
- Tender or bleeding gums
- Painful chewing
- Loose teeth
- Sensitive teeth
- Receding gums or longer appearing teeth
Gum disease affects more than just your mouth
Untreated gum disease can result in the loss of teeth, but it doesn’t just stop there. Gum disease can have major impacts on other body systems and has been tied to other serious health issues, or can make certain existing conditions worse.
Lungs & Respiratory System
A study found a relationship between the presence of periodontal disease and the incidence of respiratory illnesses including pneumonia, COPD (chronic obstructive pulminory disorder) and acute bronchitis. If the body is busy fighting inflammation and infection in another area of the body, such as the mouth, its ability to fight infections such as COPD or bronchitis may be limited or compromised.
Heart Disease & Stroke
Research has identified a variety of common risk factors associated with gum disease as well as heart disease and risk of stroke, including age, genetics, smoking habits, presence of diabetes, and more. More research is underway to examine a possible connection between the type of bacteria and chronic inflammation that occurs in the mouth, and bacteria that collect in the arteries which can cause certain types of heart disease.
Fertility & Pregnancy
According to the results of a recent study, women who have active gum disease take, on average, two to three months longer to conceive than women who do not have gum disease. Fertility specialists and IVF (in-vitro fertilization) clinics often require women who are trying to conceive or who are attempting IVF to show that they either do not have, or are actively in treatment to correct gum disease.
Nearly 40% of women who are pregnant develop gum disease at some point. In many cases with extra care and monitoring by a dentist, pregnancy-related gum disease will go away on its own. However, pregnant women who have active gum disease are more likely to deliver either prematurely or have babies with unexpectedly low birth weight.