What ‘Ups’ Your Risk For Gum Disease?

Posted on Sep 30, 2013 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

You may not realize it, but over 47% of adults in the U.S. who are 30 years and older have some form of periodontal (gum) disease. To understand gum disease, it is important to know how it begins.

Gum disease is caused by an accumulation of plaque and tartar. Plaque is the sticky film of bacteria buildup that attaches to teeth. Tartar, the hardened form of plaque, develops when plaque is not removed on a daily basis. Tartar, also known as calculus, can only be removed by special tools in your dentist’s office.

Even though good oral hygiene and regular dental checkups help most people avoid gum disease, certain factors can cause some to be more susceptible, including:

Aging: Studies have indicated that the incidence of periodontal disease increases as we get older. Over 70% of adults who are aged 65 and older have some form of gum disease.

Dry Mouth: Smoking, certain medications, drinking alcohol and aging all contribute to a dry mouth. The saliva in your mouth plays an important part in removing food particles and bacteria. When insufficient saliva cannot cleanse the mouth adequately, bacteria buildup results.

Being Male: Periodontal disease occurs more in men than women (56% vs. 38%).

Smoking: Smoking dries out the tissues in the mouth, increasing one’s susceptibility to calculus. Research shows that smokers lose more teeth than nonsmokers and typically require longer healing times after treatment with results that are less predictable.

Genetics: Because of genetics, you can be predisposed to develop gum disease. Research indicates that 30% of the population may be genetically susceptible to gum disease.

Stress: It has been proven that people who endure long-term stress have a greater risk for developing diseases such as cancer, hypertension and even gum disease. Stress takes a toll on the body’s entire operation, weakening its ability to fight infection.

Medications: The side effects of some drugs can dry out oral tissues and even weaken the density of bones, opening the door for gum disease. Like your physician, your dentist should have an up-to-date list of all medications you take, including herbal supplements.

Grinding Teeth: When you grind and clench your teeth during sleep, the teeth wear down and connective oral tissues are weakened. When the tissues surrounding your teeth are vulnerable, your entire jaw bone area is exposed to certain infections, which can lead to gum disease.

Other Health Issues: People who have diseases such as cancer or heart problems already have weaker immune systems. When the bacteria of gum disease enter the bloodstream through tears in oral tissues, harmful clotting factors and proteins can occur elsewhere in the body. Research has linked gum disease bacteria with heart disease, diabetes, stroke, preterm babies, and memory loss.

Don’t assume, “If it doesn’t hurt, then nothing is wrong.” Like other diseases that form in the body, gum disease begins silently.  When symptoms become obvious, they include bad breath, bleeding gums, soreness in the mouth, and gum recession. Often, these symptoms are assumed to be temporary, enabling the disease to progress further.

A committed oral care regimen as well as involvement with your dentist help, but are not guarantees you’ll avoid them. The more you know about periodontal disease and what makes you individually more susceptible, the more proactive you can be.

To learn more, visit the American Academy of Periodontology’s web site: www.perio.org. Or, call our office at (828) 297-2774 to arrange a periodontal exam.

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