WHAT’S PERIODONTAL DISEASE?
Periodontal Disease Overview
Periodontal disease (or periodontitis- also known as gum disease) is an infection, and refers to an inflammation of the tissues that surround and support the teeth. It involves the progressive loss of bone surrounding the teeth, and in advanced cases can lead to loosening of the teeth and even tooth loss. Periodontitis is caused by bacteria and other microorganisms that accumulate on tooth surfaces and release substances that are toxic to the body. Genetics can play a role too since the disease is exacerbated by an overactive response of an individual's immune system as it tries to destroy the infecting microorganisms. Certain risk factors such as poor oral hygiene, smoking, stress and certain illnesses (i.e. diabetes) can also predispose individuals to developing periodontitis. Common signs and symptoms of periodontal disease include red, bleeding and swollen gums, bad breath, deep pockets between the teeth and gum tissues, gum recession and loose or mobile teeth. The most effective way to eliminate periodontal disease is to prevent the buildup of bacteria, plaque and calculus (tartar) on tooth surfaces. Daily oral hygiene measures such as brushing and flossing, regular visits to your dentist for professional cleanings, and gum surgery to treat advanced cases of periodontitis are essential methods used to maintain oral health. It is important to understand that periodontitis is often painless, and thus an individual may be affected with significant periodontal disease without even realizing it.
The Mouth-Body Connection
Gone are the days when the health of the oral cavity could be considered separate from or independent of the health of the rest of the body. Beginning in the 1990’s, research began to uncover details that linked periodontal diseases with overall (or systemic) health. The increasing realization of the importance of this connection has given rise to a new focus in dentistry called periodontal medicine. Periodontal medicine may be defined as the study of the inter- relationships between periodontal diseases and systemic health. Periodontal disease has been linked with chronic inflammatory diseases in the body such as respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer,s disease and cerebrovascular disease (stroke). Periodontal disease has also been linked to pre-term and low birth weight among babies. How can gum disease have such an impact in other areas of the body, one might ask? The exact mechanisms by which periodontal diseases exert such influence are complex and not precisely understood. But the basic idea is this: Periodontal disease is an inflammatory disease that is caused by bacteria and other microorganisms that accumulate on tooth surfaces and release substances that are toxic to the body. This disease results in red, swollen and bleeding gums, and exposes blood vessels through which the bacteria can enter the general circulation. Once in the bloodstream, bacteria can travel to distant sites and release toxic substances on other organs. Maintaining and healthy mouth denies harmful bacteria access to the bloodstream and thus decreases the risk of adversely affecting other parts of the body.