By Dr. George Landress
When people think about poor oral hygiene, problems like decaying teeth, bad gums and offensive breath come to mind. But experts say an unhealthy, bacteria-filled mouth can also lead to a host of problems throughout the body. The culprit, more often than not, is gum disease.
A growing body of research is finding that gum disease — sometimes called periodontal disease — can exacerbate a wide array of health problems. And it’s not something that just affects a small segment of the population. Four of every five Americans suffer from some form of gum disease, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, part of the National Institutes of Health.
Gum disease is suspected of contributing to ailments through the bloodstream. Bacteria from the mouth flood into the circulatory system and travel to other parts of the body, causing widespread inflammation.
Another possibility is that oral infections trigger the immune system, producing inflammation elsewhere in the body.
Increasing Risk of Disease
Recent studies have shown an increased risk of heart disease and stroke in people with gum infections, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There also appears to be a link between gum infections and diabetes.
Blood infection from gum disease can even cause joint replacements to fail by aiding the body’s efforts to reject the artificial implant, said Diann Bomkamp, a dental hygienist in St. Louis, and vice president of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association.
Gum disease ranges from gingivitis — a mild and common form that causes inflammation of tissues around the teeth — to more serious forms like periodontitis, where the inflammation affects the connective tissue supporting the teeth. Periodontitis is the primary cause of tooth loss in adults.
Protecting Yourself and Your Family
Regular and thorough brushing and flossing is the first line of defense against gum disease, Bomkamp said. A good diet that avoids sugary snacks and sodas is another.
According to Bomkamp, parents should take care not to share drinks with their children, particularly if the adults have gum disease. Even an act as simple as blowing on food to cool it can pass oral bacteria from parent to child.
“It’s a bug thing, and the bugs can be transmitted from caregiver to child,” Bomkamp said.
People should make sure they drink fluoridated water and use a fluoride toothpaste — something to reconsider in these days of bottled water. You should also avoid tobacco — smokers have seven times the risk of developing gum disease than non-smokers — and limit alcohol intake.
Finally, visit the dentist regularly. Check-ups can provide early detection of oral problems, and lead to treatments that can prevent further damage.
This article was written by Dr. George L. Landress, D.D.S., Master of the Academy of General Dentistry at Dr. George L. Landress office. For more information, call 203.743.7608 or visit www.danburysmiles.com.