Gingivitis is a chronic infection of the gums. It can lead to bleeding gums, tooth decay and, ultimately, tooth loss. According to 2009 and 2010 estimates, almost half of Americans – about 67 million people – have periodontitis or gum disease. That’s alarming! With gingivitis symptoms often progressing unknowingly within an individual’s mouth, it’s no wonder the nickname is “the silent killer.”
What’s Causing the Epidemic?
It used to be thought that it was just sugar that primed the mouth for gum disease by creating an environment where bacteria could flourish and attack the teeth. But clinicians are beginning to realize gingivitis is more complex than that. Aside from the sugar content of food, a growing number of experts now believe that the so-called “stickiness” of food can affect oral hygiene. Huh?
What they mean is foods that tend to stick to the teeth and are hard to remove by brushing can contribute to gingivitis. Ok, so which foods are “sticky”?
While you might imagine that dates and raisins are the stickiest foods, and therefore the most prone to causing infections in the mouth, that’s not the case. In fact, the stickiest foods are often processed foods made of ingredients finely powdered into flours and mixed with oils. Prime examples include:
These foods stick to teeth and bacteria then has an opportunity to grow there. But even if the problem develops, which can show up as bleeding gums, only around 10% of people ever make an appointment with their dentist. The remaining 90% assume that the problem will just go away by itself. But as long as the underlying dietary causes remain, gingivitis symptoms are unlikely to get better on their own.
Why is Gingivitis So Bad for Your Health?
Gingivitis is typically thought of as a “mouth” disease. But that description has more to do with the way clinical practice organizes itself rather than anything intrinsic about the body. The mouth is as much a part of the body as the liver or the heart. The mouth affects the rest of the body, meaning that infections aren’t always local or only in one area. The infection can spread to other areas of the body rather than staying only in the mouth.
The same as with conditions like strep throat, mouth infections can significant affect the rest of the body. Shocking statistics from medical literature suggest that oral infections can increase an individual’s chances of having a stroke by more than 300% and preterm birth by over 700%. They also been associated with:
- Fatal heart disease
- Mouth cancers
In other words, gingivitis is an entryway condition that increases the likelihood of life-threatening diseases.
Gingivitis Symptoms and Spreading Bacteria
Scientists used to believe that the bacteria in the mouth stays in the mouth. But evidence is growing that suggests these bacteria are able to break out of the mouth and into the bloodstream.
Can 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 affect white blood cells is extremely concerning. Usually, doctors use elevated white blood cell counts 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 the white blood cell count in the body, other than acute infectious agents, is likely to be toxic to your long-term health. Gingivitis, if left untreated, can persist for decades. It can slowly do damage to the surrounding tissues in the rest of the body.
The gingivitis bacteria can also harm white blood cells themselves. It appears as if the bacteria can destroy white blood cells, causing them to spill out their cytotoxic or invader-killing internal juices into the bloodstream. The result can be serious inflammation to the rest of the body’s cells.
Do You have Gingivitis Symptoms?
Among the most common gingivitis symptoms are:
1. Bleeding Gums
Bleeding gums are the most visible sign of the disease called gingivitis. If you spit blood in the sink after brushing, for example, it’s a good sign that you may have a gum infection.
But, according to Mariano Sanz, a professor of tooth loss at the University of Madrid, the bleeding gums is a gingivitis symptom but it can also indicate something else. If you regularly spit blood after brushing, there’s also a chance that you’ll go on to develop heart disease and stroke. That could be 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.
2. Swollen Gums
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, one of the gingivitis symptoms. In turn, it can be more difficult to control blood sugar levels, worsening the original inflammation.
If your gums are sensitive to the touch or look swollen, then there’s a good chance that you are experiencing gingivitis symptoms. If you have diabetes, then you may be at even greater risk of serious clinical complications, such as elevated blood sugar levels. Some experts suggest that dealing with gingivitis in diabetics is often more effective than putting them on additional anti-diabetic drugs.
3. Ulcers as Gingivitis Symptoms
Finally, people with infections in the mouth may experience mouth ulcers. Because they are small and transient, mouth ulcers often get little attention from people. Ignoring them is common for sufferers. But those ulcers can be a sign of an autoimmune issue so it’s important to pay attention to them. Make an appointment with your dentist if you have these gingivitis symptoms.
Staying in Good Oral Health
The good news is that you can do a lot 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.