Periodontal Disease: Don’t Become Another Statistic

According to a 2012 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), more than 40 percent of Americans over the age of 30 have mild, moderate or severe periodontitis, or gum disease. The age group most impacted by the disease is adults over 65, as nearly two-thirds of them have moderate to severe forms of gum disease. However, there are many other people at risk besides seniors – many who may not even realize it. The CDC researchers found that previous national surveys may have significantly underestimated the prevalence of gum disease in the U.S.

Three Forms of Gum Disease

Periodontitis is an inflammatory disease in which there is loss of connective tissue between the teeth and gums. Periodontists identify three forms of gum disease:

Mild: Patients with mild periodontitis need to see the dentist for a thorough teeth cleaning called a scaling and root planing. Scaling removes plaque on the crowns of your teeth and just below the gum line. Root planing removes plaque from the roots of your teeth, and smooths the roots to prevent bacteria from building up.

Moderate: For moderate periodontitis, patients usually need more than a scaling and root planing to take care of the issue. Some patients require gum surgery to reshape the gums to fit the teeth or encourage bone regrowth.

Severe: In cases of severe periodontitis, there is a strong possibility of tooth loss. Surgical intervention is likely required, often in combination with antibiotics.

At Risk Groups


The CDC research discovered higher incidences of gum disease in men vs. women (56 percent vs. 38 percent). The American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) questions whether it is because men are less likely to go to the dentist or that men have higher indicators such as increased plaque, tartar and bleeding during probing. Unfortunately, a man’s periodontal health appears to be related to other health issues, including heart disease, prostate health and cancer.


The CDC researchers found 64 percent of smokers had some form of gum disease. According to the AAP, tobacco use may be one of the “most significant risk factors in the development and progression of periodontal disease.”

Stressed Individuals

There have been several large studies focused on stress and oral health in the past decade. Studies at State University of New York at Buffalo, University of Michigan, and the University of North Carolina found there was a significant correlation between stress and gum disease. Stress makes it harder for individuals to fight off infection, including periodontal disease. People under stress often put off brushing their teeth and skip flossing, which also leads to gum disease.

Management and Prevention of Gum Disease

It is important for everyone to see the dentist at least once every six months for an examination and thorough cleaning. During the exam, your dentist will look for risk factors of gum disease and be able to diagnose it earlier. An early diagnosis is the key to restoring gum health. If you do have gum disease or are at risk, the dentist will probably ask you to come in more often to prevent it from getting worse.

The easiest way to keep gum disease at bay is to brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss at least once a day in between dental visits. Periodontitis may be prevalent in the U.S., but it can be successfully treated and managed.

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The Dangers of Tobacco on Oral Health

After the recent death of Major League Baseball (MLB) Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn at the age of 54, the American Dental Association (ADA) and eight other major medical and public health organizations have a shared mission – ending the use of tobacco at ballparks and on camera. Baseball legend Tony Gwynn died of cancer. His longtime use of chewing tobacco is likely responsible.

The organizations wrote a joint letter to Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) Executive Director Tony Clark and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig on June 24, urging them to make the change. It was signed by the following groups:

  • ADA
  • American Cancer Society
  • American Heart Association
  • American Lung Association
  • American Medical Association
  • Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
  • Legacy
  • Oral Health America
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

According to the ADA, Mr. Selig answered the letter on June 30, saying that “while MLB is doing everything possible to eliminate smokeless tobacco from baseball, its hands are tied from completely implementing a ban.”

The Dangers of Chewing Tobacco

Smokeless tobacco is tobacco that is not burned, also called spitting tobacco, dip, chew and snuff. Most people chew the tobacco and spit out the juices, but spitless smokeless tobacco is also on the market. Nicotine enters the blood stream through the lining of the gums. The two types of smokeless tobacco are chewing tobacco (referred to in the MLB letter) and snuff, which is a finely cut tobacco. They are both extremely dangerous to your health.

Smokeless tobacco contains toxins that can lead to the development of gum disease and oral cancer. In addition, smokeless tobacco stains the teeth and tongue, affects taste and smell, and slows the healing process after oral surgery. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) warns that smokeless tobacco can cause tooth decay in exposed roots and cause gums to pull away from the teeth. The gums do not grow back. It is also common for people who chew or dip tobacco to grow leathery white patches and sores, which are a precursor to oral cancer.

Deciding to Quit

There are many reasons to quit in addition to the health impact:

  • Financial cost
  • Effect on personal relationships
  • To set an example
  • Poor taste

Unfortunately, quitting smokeless tobacco can be difficult. It is a good idea to prepare ahead of time so that you know what to expect and can make a plan. Make an appointment for a dental exam to find out whether there has been significant damage to your oral health. Get information about nicotine replacement therapy, which many people rely on to cut their cravings. Then choose a day to quit and stick to it.

You will need to decide whether to quit “cold turkey” or gradually cut back on your smokeless tobacco use. Regardless, you will need support. Ask friends and family to help you through the process. The NIH suggests exercising and finding other ways to keep busy. It is important that people not offer you smokeless tobacco because that will only make it more difficult.

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