The Dangers of Gum Disease
If your mouth were a rock band, your teeth would be the front man. They get all the attention, and are often viewed as the most high-maintenance component of the whole operation. You often hear of people getting their teeth cleaned, or having a toothache, or having nice teeth. You don’t often hear ladies say, “Wow, that guy has really healthy gums!”
If we’re sticking with this analogy (and apparently we are), your gums would probably be the bass player in the band. For the most part they are in the background, out of the limelight, but without them, the entire composition falls apart.
While today’s pop culture makes this analogy convenient, it would be more accurate to compare the gums to a member of an orchestra than to that of a rock band. After all, the gums are an integral part of the much larger, complex system that is the human body. The health of one’s gum tissue has significant implications that reach well beyond the mouth.
The gums are of course susceptible to physical damage from trauma, just as your teeth are. Mouth guards are widely and strongly suggested for use during high risk activities to protect one’s gums as well as the teeth.
The greatest threat to healthy gingiva, however, is gum disease. Oral bacteria produce toxins that infect the gums, breaking down the connective tissue. Gum disease is generally classified in one of two stages, based on the severity to which it has progressed.
Gingivitis is the earlier of the two stages, and is typically characterized by inflammation and bleeding. It is very common, but also rather treatable, often just with a strong oral hygiene regimen.
The longer gingivitis goes untreated, however, the more likely it is to lead to periodontitis, which is the more severe stage of gum disease. This is the point at which potentially irreversible damage occurs to the connective tissue or even the bone surrounding the tooth.
Risk factors that cause or exacerbate gum disease include poor hygiene, smoking, diabetes and other diseases, hormonal changes in the body, and genetics.
Some risk factors, such as diabetes are themselves health problems that can be complicated by gum disease. Untreated gum disease has been shown to increase the burden of conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. There is even evidence to suggest that it is a causal factor in some of these conditions.
The bacteria that causes gum disease can spread throughout the body via the bloodstream, causing similar inflammation to other parts of the body that it causes in the gums. This can result in respiratory infection when it occurs in the lungs or arthritis when it occurs in the joints.
Gum disease generally does not manifest especially noticeable symptoms until it has degenerated to an extreme degree. This is one of the primary reasons that regular checkups with a dental professional are so imperative.
Your dentist can also help you to plan against or take steps to mitigate risk factors such as genetics, hormonal changes, and medical conditions or medications. Avoiding risk factors such as smoking and maintaining a sufficient hygiene regimen are paramount to preventing gum disease also.
Watch for warning signs, such as swollen or bleeding gums, persistent bad breath, and loose or separating teeth. Gum disease is the most treatable when detected early.
Gingivitis and periodontitis are conditions to be taken seriously, and are both relatively common and widespread. Working in cooperation with your dentist, however, gum disease is not only very treatable, but also very preventable.