The prevention and treatment of gum disease is one of the most important things your dentist can do for your health. In addition to tooth loss, gum disease is being implicated in a wide range of serious health conditions that can threaten your quality of life and even your life itself. Diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and many types of cancer have been linked to gum disease.
Symptoms of Gum Disease
There are many symptoms of gum disease that allow you to detect it. Unfortunately, many people don’t notice these symptoms or just ignore them. Here are some of the primary symptoms to watch out for:
- Red, swollen gums
- Bleeding gums after eating or brushing
- Uneven gum line
- Gums are receding–teeth seem to be getting longer
- Tooth sensitivity
- Loose teeth
We listed these symptoms roughly in the order they progress, from less serious to more serious. By the time you notice loose teeth, it’s vital that you seek treatment for your gum disease, because the next symptom is tooth loss. Gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss among adults.
How Gum Disease Impacts Your Body
Gum disease isn’t just a threat to your teeth, it’s a threat to your total health. In addition to the damage it causes to your oral health, it has been linked to numerous health conditions, including:
- Heart disease
- Pregnancy complications
- Autoimmune disorders
Diabetes and gum disease are a particularly dangerous combination because each makes the other worse. Diabetes can increase your risk of gum disease, and serious gum disease can make it harder to control your blood sugar, which in turn intensifies the impact of diabetes on your gums.
Living gum disease bacteria are found in arterial plaque, and these bacteria can even infect your heart, causing endocarditis.
Arterial plaque is what causes stroke. When plaque breaks off and travels through the artery into narrower channels it can get lodged in place, blocking blood flow, which is what we call a stroke.
During pregnancy it can strain your body’s already tight resources, contributing to premature birth and low birth weight.
Much of your breath travels through your mouth, carrying oral bacteria into your lungs, where they can cause infection and fluid buildup known as pneumonia.
As a chronic infection, gum disease puts a lot of stress on your immune system, which can cause immune system malfunctions such as autoimmune disorders in which the immune system begins attacking your body’s system as if it were an infection.
Chronic inflammation has many effects on the body. One of these can potentially be to trigger cancer mutations. Gum disease bacteria has also been shown to disable some parts of the immune system, including the part that helps the body recognize some types of cancer. At this time, research has demonstrated links between gum disease and:
- Oral cancer
- Lung cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Breast cancer
- Colon cancer
Among others, and new connections are being discovered regularly.
How Is Gum Disease Treated?
The treatment for gum disease depends on the severity of the infection. For minor cases of gum disease, we might just recommend a wait-and-see approach combined with changes to your oral hygiene. For more serious gum disease, we will perform a procedure similar to root planing and scaling, but using a laser to facilitate treatment. This reduces discomfort, helps sterilize the treatment area, and can speed healing.
For very serious cases, we might refer you to a specialist for surgical management.