In our Portland Periodontics blog, we hope to educate patients on the danger gum disease represents to their long-term health. Now, a new report has found that the number of people suffering from gum disease and tooth decay is having a widespread and significant impact on not only their oral health but also on their general wellbeing and overall health, especially among seniors.
Conducted by researchers at the Bristol Dental School, the study examined all available data related to worldwide oral health and found that 10 percent of the global population – over 743 million people – suffer from severe gum disease.
The results of this study were recently announced at the European Federation of Periodontology, a gathering of the world’s foremost experts in gum disease and gum health, and published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology.
Gum Disease is a Global Epidemic
A chronic infection, gum disease takes root in the soft tissues of the mouth, causing inflammation to develop that leaves gums looking red, feeling tender, and bleeding easily after brushing.
When left untreated, gum disease begins to attack the soft tissues and underlying bone structure that holds our teeth into position. Over time, these structures will begin to break down, causing our teeth to become loose, shift, and even fall out. In fact, gum disease ranks as the leading cause of permanent tooth loss in adults in the U.S.
While the study’s findings show the widespread prevalence of gum disease worldwide, the condition also impacts a disproportionate number of Americans. Over 47 percent of adults 30 and older in the U.S. suffer from either moderate or severe gum disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The prevalence of the disease only becomes worse as we age, as over 70 percent of adults aged 65 and older suffer from gum disease.
Gum Disease Linked to Health Concerns
What makes the number of people suffering from gum disease so troubling at home and abroad is the results other studies have uncovered regarding the effect gum disease can have on the body. A growing amount of research has found that individuals suffering from tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss have a significantly higher risk for developing a range of chronic health conditions that include heart disease, stroke, diabetes, dementia, arthritis, and cancer.
The mechanism that links gum disease with systemic diseases in the body still remains a mystery, however, researchers do have a compelling theory. They believe that when cracks develop in gum tissue as the result of gum disease, harmful oral bacteria can enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body, causing inflammation to develop in areas such as the heart and joints, while also creating an environment that enables cancer cells to thrive.
While science continues to determine exactly how gum disease impacts the long-term health of our bodies, it’s become clear that we can no longer take our oral health for granted.
When discussing the results of their study, researchers highlighted the burden gum disease can have on aging populations. Both gum disease and tooth decay can cause eating problems in seniors that can lead to poor nutrition, a negative impact on their self-esteem, and poor quality of life. So even if the disease doesn’t contribute to the development of other chronic health issues, it can significantly lower our quality of life as we grow older.
Increased Education the Key
Unfortunately, despite the long-term risk associated with gum disease, many people still don’t appreciate what poor oral health can mean to their bodies. To help increase awareness about the dangers of and how to prevent gum disease, the study’s authors suggested a number of key recommendations for patients that include:
- Schedule regular dental exams, checkups, and cleanings with an oral health professional.
- Bleeding gums are not normal. Patients should schedule a dental exam and undergo a periodontal evaluation if normal daily activities like eating, brushing, and flossing cause gums to bleed.
- Gum disease needs to be viewed as an indicator of a patient’s overall health.
- Cutting back on sugar intake can have a significant impact on lowering an individual’s risk for dental decay and disease.
- Patients absolutely must remain committed to practicing quality oral hygiene at home, such as brushing and flossing daily.
By stressing and promoting the need for improved oral hygiene, making changes in diet, and receiving regular dental care, researchers hope that people worldwide will have the tools and knowledge needed to improve their long-term health. If gum disease is allowed to remain a silent killer, the world’s population is at a growing risk for a host of problems now and later in life.
For more information on how gum disease impacts our health and more tips on how to best lower your risk for the disease, keep coming back to the Portland Periodontics blog as we continue to explore this important topic.