The team at 1st in Smiles takes your oral health seriously! One of the most significant risks to your oral health is periodontal disease (AKA gum disease). Over 64 million Americans suffer from gum disease, either gingivitis (the first stage of the disease) or periodontitis (the second, more serious stage). That’s 20% of the US population (that comes about 55,000 people in Plano, TX).
That’s a significant portion of the population no matter how you slice it; it’s difficult to believe that all these people don’t take care of their teeth like they should! While poor oral hygiene (and failing to make and keep your dental appointments) are major contributors to the prevalence of gum disease, there are other risk factors as well. Some of these risk factors are things you can actually do something about, like poor oral hygiene or avoiding the dentist. Other risk factors aren’t as easy to fix, and still others are unavoidable. However, just knowing your risk can be enough to help you make the right decisions for your oral health.
In this final post in our three part series on gum disease, we’ll talk about the risk factors that contribute to the development of gum disease.
Risk Factors You’ll Have to Live With
There are some things in life you just can’t do anything about. Although you can’t do much about these risk factors, knowing what they are can help you create a plan to avoid gum disease.
Getting older is something we all face. In one of the earlier posts, we mentioned this sobering statistic: according to organizations like the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and the American Academy of Periodontology, it’s estimated that 50% of all adults thirty years of age and older have some form of gum disease. That’s a one out of two chance. That doesn’t really seem that bad; it’s the same thing as a flip of a coin!
As you age, your risk for developing gum disease increases, as your body (along with your teeth and gums) undergoes physiological changes. By the time you’ve made it past the age of 65, your chance of developing gum disease is almost a certainty, at 70%.
You can’t stop the aging process, but this information should serve as a kick in the pants to take your oral health more seriously as you get older.
Until science figures out how to manipulate genes in living humans, your genes are pretty much set in stone. There’s not much you can do about your genes. What you can do is build a family health history. Ask members of your family about their health (and the health of members of your family who might have passed); did you have an Uncle Gappy, who was famous for his toothless grin? If so, you might be genetically predisposed to gum disease. That means you need to be very careful to take care of your teeth and gums, because even if you are extremely vigilant about your oral hygiene, your genes make your risk much higher than normal.
Inflammation and Systemic Disease
As you now know, gum disease is caused by chronic inflammation; your body’s most powerful defensive weapon gets out of control and begins to destroy healthy tissues. Inflammation, as it turns out, is a common component of many problems in the human body. Recent research has connected gum disease, chronic inflammation, and systemic diseases. A systemic disease is a disease that effects the body as a whole, or multiple systems within the body simultaneously. These three things appear to influence one another. That means if you have a systemic disease, it can make your gum disease worse; at the same time, gum disease can worsen the symptoms of the systemic disease!
Systemic diseases that have been linked to gum disease include:
- Heart Disease
- Respiratory Disease
- Cancer (cancers of the blood, kidney, and pancreas are examples).
Another disease that can be included on this list is diabetes. The link between diabetes and gum disease is so well-documented and strong, that in some instances, gum disease can be considered a complication of diabetes!
If you’re a diabetic, your glucose (sugar) levels are higher than normal; although it’s sometimes referred to as “blood sugar”, glucose is found in other bodily fluids, like saliva. Bacteria love to eat, and their favorite meal is glucose, and they don’t care where it comes from: a bit of candy stuck between your tooth, or your saliva. The more food bacteria have to eat, the more they multiply. That means a more aggressive infection.
That’s not all: diabetics also have thicker blood vessels. Blood vessels are sort of like your body’s utilities: blood vessels are responsible for distributing nutrients throughout the body, as well as shuttling away waste products. Thicker blood vessels makes this movement slower, which makes tissue infection (like your gums) much more likely.
There is a bit of good news, though: if you’re a diabetic with your sugar levels under control and well-managed, your chance for developing gum disease is no higher than someone who is not a diabetic! Keep in mind though that gum disease also makes controlling your blood sugar more difficult, and your diabetes makes treating your gum disease more difficult too!
If you want to keep your teeth, and you’re a diabetic, gum disease can be disastrous; staying on top of your blood sugar is critical!
Risk Factors You Can Control
There are certain risk factors that you definitely can control, or at least influence. Most of the risk factors that follow are linked to lifestyle. Change your habits for your health!
Oral Hygiene Habits:
We’re probably beating a dead horse at this point, but if you have poor oral hygiene habits, and you don’t see your dentist regularly, you stand a very high chance of developing gum disease. As we’ve mentioned before, keep in mind the 2 by 2 rule:
Twice a day, brush, floss, and rinse with mouthwash.
Twice a year, see your dentist for exams and cleanings.
If you do this, you will dramatically reduce your risk.
Are you really stressed on a regular basis? Stress can be good sometimes because it’s the fire that gets you going to achieve a goal, but when it is too intense and too frequent, stress can have a lot of negative impacts on your health. Stress has been known to seriously compromise the immune system. If your immune system is already under attack from a bacterial infection in your gums, it will have a much harder time fighting back when you are under too much stress!
There’s a lot you can do to help control stress: exercise is a good idea, as is meditation (you don’t have to buy special clothes, or make any strange noises; it’s enough just to sit quietly by yourself).
This is another immune system killer. Your body needs good nutrition to live and to fight diseases. If it doesn’t get enough from the food you eat, your body becomes much less efficient, and that includes your immune system. This isn’t just about people who are heavy: skinny people can also suffer from nutritional deficits just as easily (you’re just lucky that it doesn’t show). If you are significantly overweight, you should lose the weight (or lose your teeth).
Smoking is in decline in our country, but people still do it. At this point it goes without saying that smoking has been definitely linked to a lot of health problems, and gum disease is one of them. Besides all the other problems smoking causes, smoking can impede the healing process and make inflammation worse.
If you want to save your teeth and your life, quit smoking now! You can do it.
If any of these risk factors sound familiar, don’t delay: make an appointment with your dentist today!
1st in Smiles is here to help! Dial 972-380-8105.