"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Why are your gums so necessary to your health?

Periodontal disease can increase the chance of diabetes, heart disease and dementia.

Regular flossing, together with brushing, is vital to stopping periodontal disease.

Photo: Ken Stock

Periodontal disease (periodontitis) has long been recognized because the leading explanation for tooth loss in adults. But the damage shouldn't be limited to the mouth. Gum disease can be related to an increased risk of significant degenerative diseases.

How does gum disease start?

Like our gut, our mouths have a fancy ecosystem of bacteria, generally known as the oral microbiome. And as within the gut, several types of bacteria compete for space. When all species are in balance, the gums are shielded from disease-causing bacteria. Disrupting this balance allows pathogens to invade, causing periodontal disease, which further disrupts the bacterial balance.

Pathogenic bacteria initiate periodontal disease. However, they usually are not the one – and even major – culprits. Yesterday we thought that bacteria destroyed tissue. Scientists today understand that it's inflammation attributable to bacteria that destroys tissue. That is, disease-causing bacteria trigger a response from the body's immune system, and to eliminate them, white blood cells produce substances that not only destroy the bacteria, but additionally damage the gum tissue.

Effects of gum disease on the entire body

The effects of periodontal disease range from mild redness and swelling of the gums to the whole destruction of the bone-supporting structures of the teeth (advanced periodontitis), which is answerable for tooth loss.

Over the years, individuals with periodontal disease have been found to have a better risk of heart problems, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, pregnancy complications and dementia. We don't yet know if periodontal disease actually causes other health problems, or if individuals with chronic health problems have more difficulty taking good care of their teeth and gums. This is an association, not a proven cause and effect relationship. But inflammation, which plays a job in all of those conditions, appears to be the link.

Moreover, the association probably works each ways. For example, diabetes research has determined that successfully treating periodontitis reduces the severity of diabetes and vice versa.

Prevention of periodontal disease

The following, which either help prevent bacterial infection or reduce inflammation, are still great ways to scale back the chance of gum disease.

Brush and floss. Brush your teeth not less than twice a day, and floss before bed. If you've got bridges, implants, or wide spaces between your teeth, it's possible you'll need to use a tool like a interdental brush — a toothpick with small bristles on one end — to scrub out trapped food.

Do not smoke. People who smoke one and a half packs of cigarettes per day are almost 3 times more prone to develop periodontitis than non-smokers. People who smoke multiple and a half packs of cigarettes per day have a six-fold increased risk.

Eat healthy food. A weight loss program wealthy in vegetables and vegetable oils, fruits, beans, nuts, and fatty fish not only provides all of the essential nutrients, but it surely also helps suppress inflammation. There is a few evidence that individuals whose diets are high in omega-3 fatty acids, present in oily fish, have a lower risk of periodontal disease.

Get regular dental checkups. and cleanliness. Your dentist or dental hygienist can remove plaque harboring bacteria and search for the primary signs of periodontal disease.

Get treatment at the primary signs of gum disease. Swollen, bleeding gums; pus pocket; or gums which have pulled away out of your teeth are probably the most dramatic signs of periodontal disease. Subtle changes, comparable to widening of the spaces between your teeth, and bridges or partial dentures that don't fit in addition to they used to, may also indicate periodontitis.