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Face the risk of periodontal disease head on

The early stages of gum disease often go unnoticed

By Joyce Rosenthal, D.D.S.

It’s a regular occurrence: a Patient visits the dentist after putting it off for years and is shocked to find out they have a mouthful of problems. So, the next time their bi-annual visit approaches, they put it off, not wanting to deal with any more potential problems.

The unfortunate reality is that this scenario is more the norm than the exception. While I could write a book about the importance of keeping your regular dentist visits, I want to take this opportunity to highlight what is commonly called “gum disease.”  Recent research demonstrates a strong link between periodontal disease and a person’s overall health and well-being. However, most people are unaware of the likelihood of their developing periodontal disease, commonly known, in its mildest form, as gingivitis. 

Periodontal disease occurs when bacteria causes inflammation of the gums, which affects the long-term health of the teeth and bones in the mouth. Left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to tooth loss and permanent damage to gum and bone tissue. 

The important news is that periodontal disease is preventable and very treatable. Although it can be difficult to detect in its early stages, symptoms may include red and swollen gums, bleeding while brushing or flossing, receding gum lines, pain while chewing, loose or separating teeth and/or a change in the way teeth fit together when biting. Your dentist is the best person to determine whether you have, or are at risk for, periodontal disease.

Several risk factors are associated with periodontal disease, one of which is genetic susceptibility. Many immigrants may be at higher risk for the disease because of a lack of resistance to oral bacteria and their dietary history. Studies have shown that individuals of Mexican American descent are at higher risk for developing periodontitis than people of European descent. While the exact reasons are still unclear, a recent study suggests that different inflammatory responses may be to blame for the higher number of immigrants who have periodontal disease. 

If you are a person at higher risk, then take control of your oral hygiene and ask your dentist about what you can do to combat this disease. In short, if regular dental visits are skipped and a dental problem worsens, there is a greater likelihood that there will be a long-term impact on a person’s overall health.

Follow the tips below to keep your mouth in the best possible health:

Practice daily dental care. In addition to daily brushing and flossing, there are other steps individuals can take to be sure their mouths are in great shape. Brush at least two minutes, twice a day, using a toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Brushing the tongue for at least 30 seconds and replacing a toothbrush every one to three months are just a couple of ways to practice good daily dental care. In you have been sick, don’t forget to replace your toothbrush so you don’t reintroduce those same germs back into your body. Other great habits include using a mouth rinse before brushing and drinking at least seven glasses of water a day.

Always visit the dentist regularly. Most people have check-ups every six months. Sometimes, individuals with this disease do not experience any pain before they are diagnosed. Regular dental visits give the dentist the opportunity to identify the disease sooner rather than later. 

Take a risk assessment test. The American Academy of Periodontology has an excellent tool to help you determine if you are at risk for this disease. If you are, then discuss the assessment results with your dentist to determine the next steps. To access this tool, visit service.previser.com/aap/default.aspx.

Know your family history. Family history is important in determining if you will be at higher risk for periodontal disease.

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This Article appears on the October 2012 issue of LPM under Health

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