Gum disease, also called periodontal disease, is a common dental disorder that affects close to half of American adults. Progressing in various stages, gum disease usually presents itself as gingivitis, the first stage of gum disease. If caught within this stage, gum disease can be reversed. In order to catch gum disease early enough for a full reversal, it is important to be educated on not only the symptoms of gum disease but the risk factors as well.
While anyone can succumb to gum disease, there are some that are at a greater risk of developing gum disease than others. This subgroup of individuals will have to be even more vigilant in caring for their gums and more aware of any changes that do occur within the gums or teeth. Over all, there are eight common risk factors that make an individual more at risk for gum disease:
There are some risk factors that can be controlled and others that are simply the “luck” of the draw. For many, the most frustrating risk factor is genetics because you cannot control your genetic makeup. Fortunately, in medicine, medical history matters. Having the knowledge that gum disease is common within your family can help to prevent or halt gum disease.
By speaking with your dentist about your medical history, you can come up with a gum-disease prevention plan that involves regular cleanings and checkups to ensure that your gums are healthy and disease-free.
Another (somewhat) avoidable risk factor is stress. Stress lowers the overall function of your immune system. This makes one more susceptible to illness and disease, like gum disease. By finding ways to manage your stress in a healthy way, you can reduce your risk of gum disease.
Defined as the involuntary clenching or grinding of teeth, bruxism wears down the structures of the teeth and can lead to gum disease. Bruxism can be reduced by speaking with your dentist about various oral appliances that can be inserted into the mouth.
Pregnancy and Diabetes
Adding to the list of things that are (relatively) not within one’s control are pregnancy and diabetes. These are two risk factors that require monitoring of the gums. If you are pregnant or have diabetes, meeting with your dentist regularly can help keep your oral health intact.
Certain medications can increase one’s risk of developing gum disease because they dry out the mouth, alter the body’s hormone levels, and increase overall gum sensitivity. If you are taking antidepressants, blood pressure medication, or oral contraceptives, speak with your dentist about how you can protect your oral health against the various medication side effects.
While some risk factors like genetics cannot be controlled, some can be. Nutrition plays a large role in overall oral health. Poor nutrition weakens the immune system and can weaken tooth enamel. This provides the perfect environment for gum disease to develop. By focusing on proper nutrition and by eating a healthy, balanced diet, you can reduce your overall risk for developing gum disease.
The biggest risk factor for developing gum disease is the use of tobacco. Not only does tobacco use increase the amount of tartar on the teeth, it also dries out the mouth, and increases one’s risk of oral cancers. Limiting or eliminating tobacco use in all forms is the best way to reduce your risk for gum disease.
Symptoms of Gum Disease
If you have one of the risk factors mentioned above, it is important to know the symptoms of gum disease so that you can catch it early enough to reverse it or, at the very least, to halt it from progressing. Symptoms of gum disease include:
- Red, tender, or swollen gums
- Gums that bleed easily, especially when brushing
- Receding gums
- Halitosis (bad breath) or a bad taste in the mouth
- Teeth that are loose or are beginning to separate
- A change in your bite
- A change to the fit of partial dentures
If you have noticed any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your dentist right away so that you can begin gum disease treatment. Because gum disease will not go away or halt its progression on its own, it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible.