February is American Heart Month

According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the number 1 killer of women and the cause of 1 out of every 3 female deaths each year.

Statistics like this have a significant effect on the practice of dentistry (yes, dentistry!).  In particular, dental professionals who understand and keep current on systemic health conditions have developed a much more proactive and preventive approach to periodontal disease.

The best way to deal with periodontal disease is to prevent it from happening in the first place.  This involves consistent visits to the dentist for preventive cleanings and checkups. Buildup of plaque and calculus on the teeth contribute to development of periodontal disease, and no matter how conscientious and meticulous you are about cleaning your teeth and gums, you can never achieve the same result as a skilled and thorough dental hygienist.  The following video illustrates how debris on the teeth that is not removed develops into hard deposits that harbor destructive bacteria.

Regular dental cleanings can often prevent periodontal disease by disrupting calculus and bacterial colonies under the gums.

Periodontal disease involves chronic (long-term) inflammation of the tissues (gums and bone) around the teeth.  The inflammation is caused by the body’s reaction to bacteria that live and multiply in calculus that forms around the teeth.  This inflammation causes bone loss around the teeth, which makes them more difficult to clean, which allows more destructive bacteria to grow, which causes more inflammation.  It’s easy to see how this is becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. The video below illustrates the progression of periodontitis.

When destructive bacteria are present in the gums, they cause swelling and bleeding.  The open blood vessels allowing bleeding also provide an easy access point for bacteria from the mouth to get into the bloodstream.  Once in the bloodstream, these bacteria circulate around the body and can stimulate inflammation and contribute to fatty plaque accumulation in parts of the circulatory system far from the gums.

Unfortunately, symptoms (characteristics which you can identify yourself) of periodontitis such as bleeding gums, gum pain, loose teeth, persistent bad breath, red and swollen gums, or shifting teeth,  do not often occur until the disease is advanced and difficult to treat (starting around 15 seconds into the above video). The total surface area of infected tissue at an advanced stage can be as large as your palm!

The good news is that dentists can recognize signs (characteristics that can only be identified by a health professional during a full periodontal exam) of periodontitis at early stages and recommend treatment to control the disease before it develops to an advanced stage.  The sooner treatment is provided, the less invasive, less expensive, and more successful the treatment is likely to be.

One of the best predictors of long-term control of periodontal disease is regular professional cleanings.  No matter how diligent and conscientious you are about cleaning your teeth and gums, you can never achieve a result that matches the effectiveness of a thorough and skilled dental hygienist using the proper ultrasonic and hand instruments to access the deeper pockets around the teeth.

Have you had your gums evaluated for signs of periodontal disease recently?

What about your loved ones? Help yourself and your loved ones stay heart healthy by scheduling an exam with Dr. Gray today.

For additional information about periodontal disease, please take a look at the periodontal page on our website and our other periodontal-related blogs.

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