While most people see only their top, front teeth while brushing or getting ready for the day, dental professionals have a more intricate view of an individual’s mouth. I have a close-up view of teeth and gum tissues and training to assess what is in good condition and what is not.
When nothing hurts, it’s easy to assume that what you can’t see is fine. However, the prevalence of periodontal (gum) disease in the U.S. is alarming, affecting over 47 percent of American adults.
Like most diseases that form in our bodies, gum disease begins without obvious signs. Once symptoms emerge, they often include gums that bleed easily when brushing, sore or swollen gums, gums that turn red color, receded gums that expose sensitive tooth root areas, persistent bad breath, pus pockets that form on gums, and loosening teeth.
While gum disease is the nation’s leading cause of adult tooth loss (which is bad enough), it can contribute to destruction far beyond the mouth. Infectious oral bacteria can enter the bloodstream and trigger inflammation that has been associated with many serious conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, preterm babies, stroke, some cancers, impotency and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
RA is a debilitating, painful disease that attacks joints. Typically, it emerges gradually, often beginning with morning stiffness and weak, aching muscles. Stiff, sore joints emerge, most often affecting the ankles, toes, hips, knees, fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulder and neck.
As inflammation from RA increases, joints swell and disfigure hands and feet. Other symptoms include fever, numbness and tingling. There is no cure for RA and lifelong treatment is necessary, which may include medication, physical therapy or even surgery for certain cases.
How does RA tie in with periodontal disease?
For people who have arthritis, research shows that the clinical makeup of gum disease and RA are similar, primarily in pathogens. Pathogens are agents in the body that lead to the development of disease or illness. Studies show that the pathological process that occurs in gum disease is nearly identical to that of RA.
Both conditions also cause chronic inflammation in tissues that connect to bone. In addition, researchers have found that both diseases have a similar inflammatory trigger. It is also shown that the particular type of bacteria found in periodontally-diseased oral tissues is similar to that in tissues that surround RA affected joints.
One study showed that a particular pathogen associated with periodontal disease activated the same destructive process of rheumatoid arthritis. In the study, it was also shown that treating periodontal disease in RA patients often improved RA symptoms, likely due to the lighter burden of oral inflammation.
As research continues, we see just how intricately related our oral health is to our overall health. Hopefully, as more Americans gain awareness of how gum disease can contribute to the risk of serious health conditions, its prevalence will decline. With proper oral hygiene, including regular dental check-ups, gum disease rates will hopefully decline.
Be as committed to your oral health as you are your overall health. If you are experiencing signs of gum disease, call 910-254-4555 to schedule an appointment. Gum disease will only worsen without treatment.
If desired, begin with a no-charge consultation appointment. I’ll be happy to answer your questions and explain treatment options.