The Health Perils of Gum Disease
What are the stages of gum disease?
Gingivitis is the earliest stage of gum disease. At this stage, gums become red and inflamed and may bleed easily. Gingivitis can usually be turned around with a regimen of daily brushing and flossing, along with regular dental check-ups and cleanings -- but it does need to be caught early. “Gingivitis is reversible. Periodontitis usually has to have some sort of intervention,” says Quinones.
Periodontitis is a more serious stage of gum disease that can seriously damage the gums and structures that support the teeth. One of the hallmarks of periodontitis is pockets that form when gums pull away from the teeth. The bone and ligament that support the tooth start to break down and over time, the tooth becomes loose in its socket. Without treatment, the tooth could eventually have to be removed.
Besides what it does to the mouth, gum disease has been linked to conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and premature births or low birth weight. According to Sally Cram, DDS, PC, consumer advisor for the American Dental Association, emerging research pinpoints inflammation. “They’re finding the role of inflammation in the body is very critical to a lot of these different diseases,” Cram tells WebMD. “And that’s essentially what gum disease is: infection and inflammation in the oral cavity.”
How many people have gum disease?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates 1 in 7 adults between the ages 35 and 44 have some form of gum disease, from gingivitis to severe periodontitis. By age 65, 1 in 4 adults have gum disease. A report by the American Academy of Periodontology estimates 20% to 30% of adults have gum disease serious enough to put them at risk of losing teeth.
Gum disease more often affects men than women. One theory is that women in general take better care of their teeth. Smoking is a huge risk factor for gum disease. Up to 90% of people with severe periodontitis smoke. Further, when gum surgery becomes necessary, cigarette smoke slows down the healing process.