Preventative health measures: exercise, eating well, keeping up with your cycling routine, sleeping well and drinking more water. All of these measures might seem obvious, with little need for much thought beyond keeping up to date with your bicycle insurance or your gym membership. You might think you’ve covered all the bases. But you may not be aware that inside your mouth is a major risk to your health. Your gums. New research suggests that gum disease is a hidden killer, stealthily attacking our health in previously unthought of ways. Here’s the low down on gum disease and how to prevent it.
Prevention is Better Than Cure
There is no doubt that preventing gum disease is very much easier than curing it. Making sure you floss religiously is the most important part of gum maintenance, and you need to do it twice a day. There is evidence to suggest that up to 80% of Americans are suffering from gum disease, so it’s clear we are not following their dentist’s instructions on this one. Along with regular brushing, flossing is your major line of defence against gum disease.
What Goes Wrong
The first sign you might notice that something is wrong with your gums is bleeding. This is the first stage of gum disease, gingivitis. It is brought on by gum line bacterial infections, from nasty bugs hiding inside plaque and food residues. If you don’t act to treat gingivitis quickly it could develop into the more harmful form of gum disease, periodontitis. There are several degrees of severity with periodontitis, and all of them are bad news. You could have aggressive, necrotizing, chronic and systemic, all of which could cause tooth loss or worse. You could develop infections in the pockets that form where the gums have come away from the teeth. Your teeth might begin to work loose and the roots become exposed. It’s a horrifying picture, and one that you would be wise to guard against. Remember that plaque is essentially bacteria and food. Up to 400 types of bacteria can be hiding in the plaque in your mouth, and if you are unlucky you will be more prone to react to it than others. This is where the danger lies, as it is impossible to predict. Sometimes it is affected by age, genetics, or the overall health of your immune system.
Hidden Dangers of Gum Disease
Gum infections can contribute to killer conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Diabetics are more likely to suffer gum disease to start with. Dentists may notice this and can be useful in diagnosing diabetes in early cases. If your dentist tells you to get a check up, then listen to him. If you have diabetes, then keeping gum disease at bay will help you to keep your symptoms stable. Heart disease and stroke are two conditions we certainly don’t associate with gum disease, but research shows that a ‘cell mediator’ called the C-reactive protein can play a crucial role in the process. This attacks weakened blood vessels and can make plaque formation more likely. There is medical research to show that those who suffer with gum disease are far more likely to suffer with strokes, heart attacks and cardio-vascular problems than those without. Your body responds to infection by becoming inflamed and it is this inflammation – in the blood vessels to the brain – which can make you more susceptible to heart conditions.
Pregnancy can be the trigger for gum disease, with the increased blood supply all around the body making your gums more sensitive to bleeding. There is even evidence now to suggest that periodontitis can affect the developing child. Infection can colonise the mouth and lead to respiratory difficulties too. Inhaling bacteria that live in the mouth and throat can cause serious breathing difficulties or bacterial pneumonia.
What Can I Do?
This all paints a rather grim picture, and it’s easy to feel a bit daunted by yet another piece of medical advice, and yet another suggested lifestyle change. But luckily preventing gum disease could be as simple as just increasing your attention to oral hygiene, and making sure you floss regularly and efficiently. Rinsing with an anti-bacterial mouthwash can also help to keep infection at bay, but all dentists agree that the first line of protection is the manual removal of plaque and the massaging and cleaning of the gum line that flossing provides. Don’t neglect your gum health. You will bitterly regret it if you do, as it is an uphill struggle to regain oral health once its gone…