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We know that February is “Heart Health Awareness Month.” However, it’s also “Gum Disease Awareness Month.” In many respects, the two go hand-in-hand.
We usually focus on diet and exercise to keep our hearts healthy. Add the toothbrush and floss to the arsenal.
“Over 53 percent of adults in the United States have a moderate form of periodontal disease,” explained Dr. Mahogany Miles, a periodontist in Troy.
She explains there are two types of periodontal disease. Gingivitis is the less invasive form of gum disease.
“Routine dental cleanings, increased brushing and flossing will be able to maintain those people who have gingivitis and really swing them back to good oral health,” suggested Miles.
Left untreated, gingivitis can lead to the more severe periodontitis — although some people develop that right off. Periodontitis affects not just the gums, but the bone and ligaments surrounding the teeth — so treatment is more aggressive.
“During surgical periodontal treatment, many times we have to open the gums up, clean out underneath the gum tissue where we couldn’t access during regular cleanings. Many times, if there is a boney defect there — which there is — we do a bone grafting to regenerate bone that’s lost,” noted Miles.
So what causes gum disease? Oral bacteria — which we all have, plays a key role and genetics determines the type of oral bacteria you have.
“For some people, they have bacteria that are more prone to causing periodontal disease. Those are the people who have periodontitis and then unfortunately, our immune systems would like to fight off the gum disease and in doing so, it destroys the bone and surrounding gum tissues,” pointed out Miles.
Signs of gum disease include bleeding gums — usually noticed when you brush your teeth, teeth that become loose, tooth sensitivity to cold and sometimes warm, swelling gums and deepening gum pockets your dentist can measure. Even pus in the affected gums.
When gums become diseased, they release toxins into the bloodstream. It’s believed those toxins cause fatty plaque buildup in our arteries — increasing heart attack and stroke risk. So see your dentist regularly, brush and floss and follow your dentist’s care plan.
“You know, I can’t tell you that you’re going to eat carrots and that’s going to prevent gum disease. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way,” admitted Miles.
Flossing does help prevent gum disease by helping to clear tartar from between your teeth. An earlier study finding no benefit of flossing was only looking at cavities, not gum disease.