Healthy Mouth, Healthy Body
Taking good care of your teeth and gums isn’t just about preventing cavities or bad breath. The mouth is a window into the health of the body. It can show if you are not eating foods that are best for you or signal that you may be at risk for a disease. Diseases that affect the entire body (such as diabetes) may first be noticed because of mouth sores or other oral problems.
Periodontal diseases: What you should know
Periodontal disease is an ongoing inflammation caused by bacteria that live in plaque (rhymes with “back”). Plaque is the sticky, colorless film that constantly forms on the teeth and tissues in the mouth. The bacteria in plaque produce toxins that irritate the gums. Plaque that remains on teeth can irritate the gums, making them red, tender and likely to bleed. This condition is called gingivitis (jin-ja-VY-tis), and it can lead to more serious types of periodontal disease.
Gingivitis can be reversed if you remove plaque by having your teeth cleaned regularly in the dental office and by brushing and flossing well every day.
If you do not get rid of gingivitis, it can turn into periodontitis (perry-o-don-TIE-tis), a lasting infection in the gum pockets and around the teeth. The inflammation caused by periodontitis is not always painful, but it can damage the attachment of the gums and bone to the teeth. At this stage, treatment by a dentist is needed. If the disease is not treated, teeth may become loose or fall out or require removal by a dentist.
If you notice any of these signs, see your dentist:
- gums that bleed during brushing and flossing
- red, swollen or tender gums
- gums that have pulled away from your teeth
- bad breath that doesn't go away
- pus between your teeth and gums
- loose or separating teeth
- a change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
- a change in the fit of partial dentures
Exploring possible links
Diseases like diabetes, blood cell disorders, HIV infections and AIDS lower the body’s resistance to infection, making periodontal diseases more severe. Several studies link ongoing inflammation from periodontitis with heart disease, artery blockages and stroke.
People with diabetes often have periodontal disease. And diabetics are more likely to develop and have more severe periodontitis than non-diabetics. Some studies suggest periodontitis can make it more difficult for diabetics to control their blood sugar.
Although periodontitis may relate to these health concerns, this does not mean that one condition causes the other. But it is known that diabetics and smokers are at increased risk for developing periodontal disease. Researchers are still looking at what happens when periodontitis is treated in individuals with these various health problems.
What You Can Do
Since gum disease and other health problems may be linked, keeping your teeth and gums healthy is very important.
- Brush your teeth well twice a day. Floss or use another between-the-tooth cleaner once a day. Consider also using an anti-microbial (germ-fighting) mouth rinse every day.
- Choose dental products with the American Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance. This is an important symbol of a dental product’s safety and effectiveness. The ADA Seal tells you that the product is not only safe, it also does what it claims to do.
- Schedule regular dental checkups. Professional cleanings are the only way to remove tartar, which traps plaque bacteria along or below the gum line.
- Tell your dentist about changes in your overall health, particularly any recent illnesses or ongoing conditions. Provide an updated health history including medication use—both prescription and non-prescription products. If you use tobacco, talk to your dentist about options for quitting.
- If you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, pay close attention to your teeth and gums. That’s because pregnancy—and the changing hormone levels that occur with it—can increase some dental problems. Taking good care of your oral health is important for you and your baby.
For more information about oral health, visit www.ada.org.
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