Controlling periodontal disease is vital to your overall health. Bleeding gums are a chronic source of bacterial infection.
It’s not just about saving teeth!
The bacteria in gum pockets are toxic reservoirs of disease. The bacteria multiply and cause the gums to swell and bleed easily. When the gums bleed, these harmful bacteria enter the blood stream, and travel throughout the body to distant organs where they can cause other problems, including:
- Heart disease and stroke: Research has linked the bacteria associated with periodontal disease to the formation of blood clots that can block your arteries and trigger a heart attack. These clots also cause fat-like substances to build up in the carotid arteries in your neck. If these fat deposits break apart and are carried away in your bloodstream, they can lodge in your brain, block a vessel, and cause a stroke. Additionally, studies have also shown that when bacteria enter the bloodstream through infected gums in people with certain kinds of heart problems, they can cause a condition called infective endocarditis. This is a potentially fatal bacterial infection that can damage the heart’s valves or cause the sac around the heart to become inflamed. Scientists have discovered the same bacteria in infected heart valves and gum pockets.
- Diabetes: If you have diabetes, you’re at greater risk of suffering from oral infections and diseases, including periodontal disease. Diabetes causes blood vessels to thicken and become less elastic, which decreases the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the body’s tissues and slows removal of harmful wastes. This weakens your mouth’s resistance to infection. Also, the bacteria that are responsible for periodontal disease thrive on sugars, including glucose, the sugar linked to diabetes. If diabetes isn’t controlled properly, high glucose levels in your saliva feed these bacteria and set the stage for gum disease. The reverse is also true. An infection of the gums makes it more difficult to control your blood sugar. Diabetics who don’t successfully control their blood sugar levels often experience a decreased flow of saliva, which can lead to a condition called dry mouth or xerostomia. A lack of moisture allows plaque and tarter to build up on teeth. Decreased salivary flow is also one of the major factors that cause decay.
- Respiratory Disease: Do you wonder why you suffer from persistent episodes of pneumonia or bronchitis? The answer may be hiding in your gums. If you suffer from periodontal disease, you may be inhaling harmful bacteria into your lungs every day from the infection in your gums. The same bacteria found in gum disease has been found in the lungs of people with respiratory infections like pneumonia, bronchitis, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
- Premature Low Birth Weight Babies: Women with periodontal disease are seven times more likely to deliver pre-term, low birth weight babies than women with healthy gums. Premature birth may be caused by the body’s reaction to the bacteria in the infected gums. The body reacts to the infection in the gums by producing prostaglandin, a natural fatty acid that’s involved in inflammation control and smooth muscle contractions. During pregnancy, the level of prostaglandin gradually increases, peaking when a woman goes into labor. If extra prostaglandin is produced in response to an infection in the gums, the body may interpret it as a signal to go into labor, and the baby could be born too soon and too small.
Complications resulting from an infection in the gums can be prevented by:
- Brushing at least twice a day with a soft-bristled brush and fluoride toothpaste (If toothpaste causes nausea, brush with plain water and then rinse with an anti-plaque or fluoridated mouthwash)
- Flossing daily
- Scheduling cleanings every 3 months during pregnancy
- Smoking: It’s common knowledge that smoking has been linked to both lung and heart disease. Tobacco is also one of the most significant risk factors in the development and progression of periodontal disease. Smokers are more likely to have a buildup of tarter on their teeth, where disease causing bacteria thrive. The body responds to the bacteria in plaque and tarter by sending white blood cells (the body’s natural defense) to the infected area. When these white blood cells reach the gums, they release enzymes to attack the infection. Unfortunately, these protective enzymes also attack and break down the bone and soft tissue surrounding the teeth.The harmful bacteria reproduce rapidly in these pockets, causing them to deepen as bone and soft tissue are destroyed. Smoking worsens the problem by damaging the natural processes your body uses to fight periodontal infection. Smoking reduces saliva levels, restricts blood flow, and damages your immune system. There are over 4000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, including formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, ammonia and arsenic. These and other chemicals in tobacco slow down the healing process, and make periodontal treatment less effective. Other tobacco products, including cigars, pipes and smokeless tobacco, contain similar toxins and produce almost exactly the same results.Smokers are four times more likely to have advanced periodontal disease. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 41.3 percent of daily smokers over age 65 are toothless compared to 20 percent of non-smokers. Tobacco users also suffer from a far greater incidence of bad breath, mouth sores, tooth staining, and oral cancer.