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How does gum disease affect overall health?

Gum disease—also known as periodontal disease—often develops unnoticed over time. Left undiscovered or inadequately treated, it can cause or aggravate additional health problems. The Ordre des dentistes du Québec estimates that three-quarters of adults will suffer from some form of gum disease during their lifetime. In fact, gum disease is the second-most common oral condition among adults, after cavities.

The periodontium (the structure that supports the teeth) is composed of several tissues including the gingiva, the part of the jaw where the dental root attaches, the substance that covers and protects this structure, a protective ligament, nerves, and blood vessels.

Clearly, keeping the periodontium intact is important!

Plaque and tartar among the culprits

Plaque, a biofilm or mass of bacteria that accumulates on teeth, can calcify and form tartar. If this process isn’t stopped in time, the effect on teeth can be devastating.

Since plaque and tartar don’t always cause pain, they often go unnoticed. However, there are signs to look out for, like redness and swelling around the gums, sensitivity or bleeding during brushing, bad breath, and moving teeth.

The main factors contributing to gum disease are:

  • Inadequate dental hygiene
  • A compromised immune system due to a thyroid disorder, diabetes, pregnancy, leukemia, etc.
  • Hereditary factors
  • Smoking, which restricts blood flow to the gums and can alter the bacterial composition of the mouth as well as the body’s immune resistance to bacteria associated with periodontal diseases
  • Certain medications

When multiple risk factors are present, gum disease can progress more quickly.

Aspects of health affected by gum disease

Various studies have found links between gum disease and other conditions.

Here are some of the health conditions that may be caused or aggravated by gum disease if it is left untreated (for example, by failing to maintain proper dental hygiene or avoiding regular dental check-ups):

  • Greater risk of heart disease
  • Potential for lung infection due to inhaled bacteria caused by plaque and tartar
  • Higher risk of death due to a heart attack.
  • Blood clots caused by bacteria in the mouth. These may be a contributing factor in atherosclerosis, a narrowing of arteries that can obstruct blood flow
  • There is a strong link between gum disease, tooth loss and osteoporosis (reduced bone mass)
  • Pregnant women with gum disease are 7.5 times more likely to have a premature or underweight baby
  • Links between periodontal health and diabetes:

> Gum disease can make it more difficult to control blood glucose levels

> Persons with diabetes are at greater risk of developing gum disease

> Bleeding gums, the loss of bone mass and deep spaces (periodontal pockets) between the teeth and gums can indicate the onset of diabetes

For a healthy mouth and healthy body, prevention is key

A good daily dental hygiene routine is the best form of prevention. We also recommend that you see your dentist regularly, especially if you have difficulty managing your diabetes or reaching certain areas of your mouth. This will allow your dentist to diagnose and treat gum disease before it becomes serious.

Talk to an experienced dental health professional and find out how you can maintain or improve your oral health and overall well-being.