Gum disease is a national health crisis. According to estimates by the American Academy of Periodontology and the CDC, 50% of Americans over the age of 30 have some form of gum disease: either gingivitis (the first and less serious stage) or periodontitis (the second stage of disease that can lead to tooth loss). Gum disease is the number one cause of tooth loss in the US, but it can be difficult to see the symptoms if you don’t know what you’re looking for). In our last post, we covered the symptoms of gum disease (for both stages), and in the post prior to that we talked about how gum disease works, as a form of chronic inflammation.
If you’ve been reading along, you’ll notice a repeating message:
Gum disease is serious, but preventable! Brush, floss, and rinse with mouthwash at least twice a day, and see your dentist for cleanings and examinations at least twice a year.
It really is that simple! Good oral hygiene (as described above) is the best way to keep gum disease away. However, some people may have greater difficulty with prevention, due to additional factors that increase their risk of developing gum disease. In this post, we’ll discuss those additional factors to help you better understand your personal risk: whether you’re in our neighborhood in Edgewood, further out in Northern KY, or even further than that!
What’s My Risk?
Good health is something of a relative concept; what is good for one person might not be so great for another, and everyone has a unique set of external circumstances (lifestyle choices, for example) and internal factors (such as your genetic makeup) that contribute to whether or not you develop a specific health problem. Gum disease is no different. Take a look at the following list and see if there is anything you can do to reduce your chance of developing gum disease! As you’ll probably notice, there are some items on this list that you won’t be able to do much about, but at least knowing how they play a role in the development of gum disease will allow you to prepare for it much better.
As you age, your body undergoes a lot of changes, and that includes your teeth and gums. Without getting too specific, aging causes gum disease risk to skyrocket. Earlier, we cited a statistic from the CDC and the AAP: 50% of all adults over the age of 30 have some form of gum disease. By the time you reach 65 (which isn’t as old as it used to be it seems), your risk reaches 70%!
Short of a medical miracle or divine intervention, there isn’t anything you can do about getting “longer in the tooth” (pun definitely intended). The best thing to do is to really buckle down on your oral health as you get older. Your dentist can help you figure out the best plan for your oral health as you enter your golden years.
Genetics is an exciting field of scientific discovery, and many believe that at some point in the future, we’ll be able to get rid of health problems simply by manipulating the code in our DNA. Unfortunately, that day is not yet here. At this point, you’d be hard pressed to be able to find out if you even have a gene that puts you at greater risk for gum disease.
So how do you outsmart your genes? The bad news is you can’t; the good news is you can get a glimpse at how likely you are to develop gum disease (and a lot of other health problems as well) by building a family health history. It doesn’t have to be very formal, just make a point of speaking with your relatives about their health, and their recollections of the health of others.
This information can come in handy for diagnosing problems and preparing for them before they even get started. If you find that people in your family had problems with gum disease (or their teeth in general), there’s a strong likelihood that gum disease is in your future. The best you can do is prepare and make sure that you see your dentist regularly: studies have shown that if you have a genetic predisposition to gum disease, your risk goes up even if you are vigilant about your oral care.
Systemic diseases are those ailments that affect either multiple systems in the body, or the whole body all at once. In the first post in this blog series, we talked about how inflammation plays a big role in the advance of gum disease and the destruction it causes. As it turns out, chronic inflammation may be a big contributor to a lot of other serious diseases as well, including systemic diseases. That means that inflammation may very well be a link between gum disease and other diseases, and the presence of one can worsen the symptoms of the other, or make developing gum disease more likely.
Some of the systemic diseases that have been linked to gum disease are:
- Blood Cancer, Kidney Cancer, Pancreas Cancer (and others)
- Heart Disease
- Respiratory Disease
One of the strongest links between gum disease and systemic disease is the one between gum disease and diabetes. In fact, its theorized that gum disease may even be a complication of diabetes in some cases!
If you have diabetes, your daily challenge is to make sure that your blood sugar (glucose) is well-regulated, and not too high. First, the good news: if you manage your diabetes symptoms and sugar level well, your risk of developing gum disease is the same as someone who doesn’t have diabetes. However, if you have gum disease already, it can actually make controlling your diabetes more difficult (and it goes the other way too).
A high glucose level isn’t just limited to the sugar in your blood; glucose is present in all your bodily fluids, especially the saliva in your mouth. The oral bacteria that cause the infection underlying gum disease love sugar, and the more they can eat, the more bacteria you’ll have in your mouth. This will make keeping your oral health in line that much more difficult.
Another problem diabetes causes is the thickening of the walls of your blood vessels. Blood vessels are the delivery system of the body: they get nutrients where they need to be and get rid of wastes when they’re created. Thicker blood vessels are slower, which means the processes that provide nutrients and get rid of wastes go slower as well, which can have a big impact on your immune system’s ability to fight infections (including the infections that can cause gum disease).
Change What You Can!
The risk factors we’ve mentioned so far are fairly out of your control, with perhaps the exception of diabetes and controlling your blood sugar.
Besides seeing your dentist regularly and brushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash at least twice a day, there are other factors that you can do something about.
Number One (with a bullet): Quit Smoking!
At this point, there isn’t anyone alive (probably) who isn’t at least vaguely aware of the dangers of smoking. Gum disease is just another one on the pile of health problems smoking causes. Smoking (besides all the other bad stuff it causes) slows the healing process and intensifies chronic inflammation. You want a solid reason to quit? You’ll have to decide if you want a full pack of smokes or a full set of teeth. It’s up to you!
Commit to a Better Diet
This isn’t just about those of you who might be overweight; skinny people can suffer from a poor diet too! If your diet doesn’t have the nutrients your body needs to fend of disease and infection, your immune system slows down, and is less effective when defending your body. Make sure your body has the fuel it needs to fight diseases like gum disease!
Take Time to De-Stress
Everyone experiences stress from time to time, but if you have a problem with stress that won’t go away, it’s doing much more than making you feel like you’re going a little crazy. Stress has been known to reduce the effectiveness of your immune system, just like a poor diet.
Every person approaches managing stress differently, but here are a few suggestions to keep it in check:
- Exercise Regularly (a thirty minute walk a day may be all you need)
- See someone (if you see a medical professional about your stress, make sure your dentist is aware of any medications you might be prescribed, as certain medications can have adverse effects on your oral health)
- Meditate (this does not require special pants, or a trip to an ashram; just take a moment for yourself and sit quietly with a clear mind. It will be difficult at first but with practice, meditation has been shown to work wonders for your overall health and your ability to manage stress!
Could Your Risk of Developing Gum Disease Be Higher Than Average?
If anything on this list sounds familiar, you should see your dentist as soon as possible.
Call Edgewood Dental now and make your appointment! New patients are usually seen within the same week as their call.
Dial 859-474-7830 now!