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Dangers of Plaque & Gingivitis to Your Health

Sticky bacterial plaque that builds up on your teeth. Inflamed, bleeding gums. They don't just threaten your dental health.

A growing body of research finds that bacteria and inflammation in your mouth are also linked to other problems, including heart attack and dementia, and may well jeopardize your overall health.

Scientists have identified several links between poor oral health and other health problems -- although they can't yet establish cause and effect. This list of health problems has been growing as research continues.

Plaque and Its Effects on Your Dental Health

Sticky plaque is a kind of biofilm. A thin grouping of bacteria, plaque biofilm lives on gum tissue, teeth, and crowns.

Plaque constantly forms on your teeth. When you eat or drink foods or beverages with sugars or starches, the bacteria release acids that attack your tooth enamel.

The plaque is so sticky that it keeps the acids in contact with your teeth, in time breaking down the enamel so that tooth decay happens.

Plaque buildup can also lead to gum disease -- first gingivitis, the tender and swollen gums that sometimes bleed. If it progresses, severe periodontal (gum) disease can develop. Gum tissue pulls away from the teeth, allowing the bacteria to destroy the underlying bone supporting the teeth.

Periodontal and Other Diseases

To date, scientists have found links between periodontal disease and a number of other problems, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Dementia
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Premature birth

What's behind the links? Experts can't say for certain, but they believe that oral bacteria can escape into the bloodstream and injure major organs.

Inflammation is probably a common denominator, experts say. Periodontal disease, marked by inflammation, may increase inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation, in turn, is an underlying problem in diseases including heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

Gum Disease and Heart Disease

Over the years, many studies have found a link between periodontal disease and heart disease, with people who have gum disease more likely also to have poor heart health, including heart attacks.

In 2009, a paper on the relationship between heart disease and gum disease was developed by the American Academy of Periodontology and The American Journal of Cardiology.

The joint recommendations encourage cardiologists to ask their patients about any gum disease problems, and the periodontists to ask their patients about any family history of heart disease and their heart health.

Gum Disease and Diabetes

If you have diabetes, you are more likely than people who don't have diabetes to have gum disease. Why? Again, inflammation may be partly to blame. And, those with diabetes are more likely to contract any infections, including gum disease.

If your diabetes is not under control, you are at even higher risk of gum disease.

WebMD Medical Reference

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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