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.”
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.