Gum disease is the inflammation of the soft tissue in your mouth, and an abnormal loss of bone that holds the teeth in place. Gum disease is caused by plaque, which is a mixture of food, saliva, and bacteria that accumulates along the gum line over time. There are two types of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis can cause the gums to become red and swollen, and bleed easily. Fortunately, it is a mild form of gum disease and can be treated with a quality home oral routine and timely checkups at the dentist’s office.
However, if the gingivitis is left untreated it can advance to periodontitis and cause a whole host of problems. The toxins in plaque spread throughout the mouth and irritate the gums, stimulating a chronic inflammatory response within the body that causes the tissues and bones within the mouth that support the teeth to be destroyed. The process may have mild symptoms, but can cause many issues not just in the mouth (including loss of teeth) but throughout the entire body.
You may be able to tell that you have gum disease from looking at your gums to see if they are red or pulling back from the teeth and touching them to check if they are tender, as well as chronic bad breath, pain while chewing, and sensitive teeth or teeth that are loose.
Some studies have connected gum disease to symptoms as threatening as strokes and diabetes. Gum disease does cause inflammation in the mouth, the inflammatory agents can spread to other parts of the body to create inflammation in those areas as well. Gum health has been linked to everything from the heart to the brain. In one study scientists found that cognitive function decreased with the parallel decrease in gum health, and especially in loss of teeth. Gums have been linked to the heart partially because those who smoke or drink large quantities have poorer oral and cardiovascular health, but also because inflammation could come from the gums to damage tissues and organs over time if not resolved. It could also be linked to the bacteria in plaque, which can enter the blood supply and travel throughout the body causing damage. This bacteria can also cause erectile dysfunction, and the inflammation has also been linked to lung issues and even a small but substantial rise in cancer risk.
Although it can be scary to think of so many parts of the body relying on this one bit of soft tissue within the mouth and what that soft tissue goes through every day from sodas to cigarettes, it is also important to realize that this one area of our bodies can be fixed and improve the health of ourselves all over. So think positive and make sure to brush and floss every day, and check in with your favorite dentist every once in a while. These gums are small, but they are powerful in the scope of our bodies.