Your risk for periodontal (gum) disease increases if you’re not brushing or flossing effectively. You can also have a higher risk if you’ve inherited thinner gum tissues from your parents. But there’s one other risk factor for gum disease that’s just as significant: if you have a smoking habit.
According to research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a little more than sixty percent of smokers develop gum disease in their lifetime at double the risk of non-smokers. And it’s not just cigarettes—any form of tobacco use (including smokeless) or even e-cigarettes increases the risk for gum disease.
Smoking alters the oral environment to make it friendlier for disease-causing bacteria. Some chemicals released in tobacco can damage gum tissues, which can cause them to gradually detach from the teeth. This can lead to tooth loss, which smokers are three times more likely to experience than non-smokers.
Smoking may also hide the early signs of gum disease like red, swollen or bleeding gums. But because the nicotine in tobacco restricts the blood supply to gum tissue, the gums of a smoker with gum disease may look healthy. But it’s a camouflage, which could delay prompt treatment that could prevent further damage.
Finally because tobacco can inhibit the body’s production of antibodies to fight infection, smoking may slow the healing process after gum disease treatment. This also means tobacco users have a higher risk of a repeat infection, something known as refractory periodontitis. This can create a cycle of treatment and re-infection that can significantly increase dental care costs.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can substantially lower your risk of gum disease and its complications by quitting any kind of tobacco habit. As it leaves your system, your body will respond much quicker to heal itself. And quitting will definitely increase your chances of preventing gum disease in the first place.
Quitting, though, can be difficult, so it’s best not to go it alone. Talk with your doctor about ways to kick the habit; you may also benefit from the encouragement of family and friends, as well as support groups of others trying to quit too. To learn more about quitting tobacco visit www.smokefree.gov or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
If you would like more information on how smoking can affect your oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Smoking and Gum Disease.”
Cardiovascular disease and periodontal (gum) disease are two different conditions with their own set of symptoms and outcomes. But they do share one common element: inflammation. In fact, this otherwise normal defensive response of the body might actually create a link between them.
When tissues become damaged from disease or injury, the body triggers inflammation to isolate them from the rest of the body. This allows these tissues to heal without affecting other tissues. If inflammation becomes chronic, however, it can damage rather than protect the body.
This happens with both cardiovascular disease and gum disease. In the former, low-density lipoproteins (LDL or “bad cholesterol”) in animal fat leave behind remnants that can build up within arteries. This stimulates inflammation of the vessel’s inner linings, which accelerates hardening and increases the risk of heart attack or stroke.
With gum disease, bacteria living in a thin, built-up film of food particles on the teeth called plaque infect the gum tissues, which in turn trigger inflammation. A struggle ensures between the infection and inflammation, causing the gum tissues to weaken and detach from the teeth. Coupled with erosion of the supporting bone, the risk of tooth loss dramatically increases.
Recent research now seems to indicate the inflammatory responses from these two diseases may not occur in isolation. There is evidence that gum inflammation could aggravate inflammation in the cardiovascular system, and vice-versa. The research, though, points to some possible good news: treating inflammation in either disease could have a positive effect on the other.
Making heart-friendly lifestyle changes like losing extra weight (especially around the waist), improving nutrition, and exercising regularly can help reduce LDL and lower the risk of arterial inflammation. Likewise for your gums, daily oral hygiene and visiting the dentist at least twice a year reduces the risk for gum disease. And at the first sign of a gum infection—swollen, reddened or bleeding gums—seeking immediate treatment will stop it and reduce any occurring inflammation.
Taking steps to prevent or reduce inflammation brought on by both of these diseases could improve your health and save your life.
If you would like more information on how your oral health affects your whole body, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Link between Heart & Gum Disease.”
You’ve invested quite a bit in your new dental implants. And it truly is an investment: because of implants’ potential longevity, their long-term costs could actually be lower than other restorations whose upfront costs might be less.
But to better ensure their longevity, you’ll need to keep your implants and the natural tissues supporting them clean of bacterial plaque, a sticky biofilm that can cause periodontal (gum) disease. Although the implant itself is unaffected by disease, the natural tissues around it can be. An infection could ultimately weaken the bone supporting the implant and lead to its failure.
Such an infection involving implants could advance rapidly because they don’t have the natural defenses of the original teeth. Our natural teeth are connected to the jaw through the periodontal ligament, a collagen network that attaches to both the teeth and the bone through tiny tissue fibers. This connection also provides access to antibodies produced by the body to fight infection.
By contrast, we place implants directly into the jawbone. While this creates a very secure attachment, the implant won’t have the same connection as teeth with the body’s immune system. That means any infection that develops in surrounding tissues can spread much more rapidly—and so must be dealt with promptly.
Treating this particular form of gum disease (known as peri-implantitis) is similar to infections with natural teeth and gums, with one important difference involving the tools we use to remove plaque from them. While natural teeth can handle metal scalers and curettes, these can create microscopic scratches in the porcelain and metal surfaces of an implant and create havens for further bacterial growth. Instead, we use instruments made of plastic or resin that won’t scratch, as well as ultrasonic equipment to vibrate plaque loose.
To avoid an infection, it’s important that you brush your implants and surrounding tissues just like you would your natural teeth (be sure you use a soft-bristled brush). And keep up regular dental visits for thorough cleanings and checkups to stay ahead of any developing gum infection. Maintaining your dentures will help ensure they continue to brighten your smile for a long time.
If you would like more information on dental implants, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dental Implant Maintenance: Implant Teeth Must be Cleaned Differently.”
Are bleeding gums something you should be concerned about? Dear Doctor magazine recently posed that question to Dr. Travis Stork, an emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors. He answered with two questions of his own: “If you started bleeding from your eyeball, would you seek medical attention?” Needless to say, most everyone would. “So,” he asked, “why is it that when we bleed all the time when we floss that we think it’s no big deal?” As it turns out, that’s an excellent question — and one that’s often misunderstood.
First of all, let’s clarify what we mean by “bleeding all the time.” As many as 90 percent of people occasionally experience bleeding gums when they clean their teeth — particularly if they don’t do it often, or are just starting a flossing routine. But if your gums bleed regularly when you brush or floss, it almost certainly means there’s a problem. Many think bleeding gums is a sign they are brushing too hard; this is possible, but unlikely. It’s much more probable that irritated and bleeding gums are a sign of periodontal (gum) disease.
How common is this malady? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, nearly half of allÂ Americans over age 30 have mild, moderate or severe gum disease — and that number increases to 70.1 percent for those over 65! Periodontal disease can occur when a bacteria-rich biofilm in the mouth (also called plaque) is allowed to build up on tooth and gum surfaces. Plaque causes the gums to become inflamed, as the immune system responds to the bacteria. Eventually, this can cause gum tissue to pull away from the teeth, forming bacteria-filled “pockets” under the gum surface. If left untreated, it can lead to more serious infection, and even tooth loss.
What should you do if your gums bleed regularly when brushing or flossing? The first step is to come in for a thorough examination. In combination with a regular oral exam (and possibly x-rays or other diagnostic tests), a simple (and painless) instrument called a periodontal probe can be used to determine how far any periodontal disease may have progressed. Armed with this information, we can determine the most effective way to fight the battle against gum disease.
Above all, don’t wait too long to come in for an exam! As Dr. Stork notes, bleeding gums are “a sign that things aren’t quite right.” Â If you would like more information about bleeding gums, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bleeding Gums.” You can read the entire interview with Dr. Travis Stork in Dear Doctor magazine.
In the fight against dental disease and other conditions your general dentist is your first line of defense for prevention strategies and treatment. Sometimes, however, your condition may require the services of a dental specialist to restore health to your mouth.
A good example of this is an advanced case of periodontal (gum) disease. While your dentist and hygienist are quite skilled at removing plaque and calculus, there may be extenuating circumstances that may benefit from the knowledge and expertise of a specialist. In the case of gum-related issues that would be a periodontist, a dentist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases or disorders related to the gums and bone that support teeth.
There are a number of reasons why you may be referred to a periodontist regarding your gum health. Besides advanced stages of the disease (loose teeth, periodontal pocketing or bone loss) that require surgery or other invasive techniques you may have a particular form that requires advanced treatment, or a secondary condition, like pregnancy or diabetes, which could impact your periodontal condition. There may also be a need for a periodontist’s consultation if you’re preparing for cosmetic restoration, most notably dental implants, that could have a bearing on your gum and bone health.
As your primary oral health “gatekeeper,” your general dentist is largely responsible for determining what you need to achieve optimal health. Likewise, your periodontist or other specialists for other problems will be equally committed to providing you the right care for your situation. Your general dentist and other specialists will work together to ensure that your condition will be cared for, and that you’ll continue to enjoy the highest level of oral health possible.
If you would like more information on the role of periodontics and other dental specialties in oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Referral to a Dental Specialist.”