Gingivitis is a chronic infection of the gums that can lead to bleeding gums, tooth decay and ultimately, tooth loss. According to estimates, more than 90 percent of people over the age of 30 have some form of active gum infection in their mouth, and more than two-thirds of people over the age of 15 have gum disease.
What’s Causing The Epidemic?
It used to be thought that it was just sugar which primed the mouth for gum disease by creating an environment in which bacteria could flourish and attack the teeth. But clinicians are beginning to realize that it is actually more complex than this. Aside from the sugar content of food, most experts now suspect that oral hygiene may be affected by the so-called “stickiness” of food.
By this, they mean foods that have a tendency to stick to teeth and not be removed through brushing. While you might imagine that foods like dates and raisins might be the stickiest foods (and the most prone to causing infections in the mouth), this is not the case. In fact, the stickiest foods are often processed foods where the individual food constituents are finely powdered into flours and mixed with oils. Prime examples include things like cakes, cookies, pancakes, and chips. These foods stick to teeth and provide bacteria with a sustained source of food.
Given that 90 percent of adults have an active infection in their mouth, most people experience bleeding gums at some point in their lives. But according to research carried out by Corsodyl, only around 10 percent of individuals ever make an appointment with their dentist. The remaining 90 percent assume that the problem will just go away by itself. But as long as the underlying dietary causes remain, gingivitis is unlikely to get better on its own.
Why Is Gingivitis So Bad For Your Health?
Gingivitis is typically thought of as a “mouth” disease. But this has more to do with the way clinical practice is separated rather than anything intrinsic about the body. The mouth is just as much a part of the body as the liver or the heart. As such, what happens in the mouth affects the rest of the body, meaning that infections aren’t always localized.
Just as with conditions like strep throat, mouth infections can have knock-on effects on the rest of the body. Shocking statistics from the medical literature suggests that mouth infections can increase one’s chances of having a stroke by more than 300 percent and preterm birth by over 700 per cent. They have also been associated with fatal heart disease, mouth cancers, arthritis, and pneumonia. In other words, gingivitis is an entryway condition that increases the likelihood of life-threatening diseases.
Scientists used to believe that the bacteria in the mouth stayed in the mouth. But evidence is mounting that these bacteria are able to break out of the mouth and into the bloodstream.
Do these bacteria harm other parts of the body? The answer appears to be “yes.” Periodontal bacteria can attack the bones in the mouth, leading to severe tooth loss and these bacteria can also attack white blood cells.
The fact that periodontal bacteria can attack white blood cells is extremely concerning. Usually, elevated white blood cell counts are used as an indicator of disease status. People who have higher white blood cell counts tend to be sicker and die younger than those who do not. Thus, anything that raises white blood cell count in our body, other than acute infectious agents, is likely to be toxic to our long-term health. Gingivitis, if left untreated, can persist for decades, slowly doing damage to the surrounding tissues at the rest of the body.
The gingivitis bacteria can also harm white blood cells themselves. It appears as if the bacteria are able to destroy white blood cells, causing them to spill out their cytotoxic, invader-killing internal juices into the bloodstream, causing knock-on inflammation to the rest of the body’s cells.
Do You Have Gingivitis? Look Out For These Symptoms
Bleeding gums are the most visible sign of the disease. If you spit blood in the sink after brushing, it’s a good sign that you may have an infection.
But according to Mariano Sanz, a professor of tooth loss at the University of Madrid, if you regularly spit blood after brushing, there’s also a chance that you’ll go on to develop fatal conditions like heart disease and stroke. This, he says, is because of the increased clotting factors that circulate in the blood of those who are infected.
The link is so important that many of the top dental authorities in the world now recommend that patients who have bleeding gums be referred by their dentists to their doctor for a heart-health checkup.
Gum disease is a major cause and consequence of diabetes. The inflammation in the body which results from diabetes, according to the Birmingham School of Dentistry, can lead to inflamed gums, which in turn can make it more difficult to control blood sugar levels, exacerbating the original inflammation.
If your gums are sensitive to the touch or look swollen, then there’s a good chance that you have gingivitis. If you have diabetes, then you may be at even greater risk of serious clinical complications, like elevated blood sugar levels. Experts have suggested that dealing with gingivitis in diabetics is often more effective than placing them on additional anti-diabetic drugs.
Finally, those with infections in the mouth may experience mouth ulcers. Because they are small and transient, most people dismiss mouth ulcers, but they can be a sign of an autoimmune issue caused by bacteria in the mouth.
The good news is that plenty can be done to prevent gingivitis from ravaging your body. The best advice at the moment is to brush for two minutes in the morning and evening and avoid processed, sugary, and inflammatory foods. Those at greater risk may also want to use interdental brushes.