In a few day's we'll be celebrating Valentine's Day. The symbol that seems most associated with Valentine's Day is the heart, so it seems fitting that I post about a dental condition that can affect your heart.
Many studies have proven a link between your gums and heart problems. In fact, inflammatory gum disease is now considered one of the risk factors for heart disease by some healthcare professionals. The good news is that this risk factor is one that’s in your control!
Any medical term ending in “itis” means it is an inflammatory process. (Tonsillitis is inflamed tonsils, arthritis is inflammation of the joints, etc.) Gingivitis is inflammation of the gingiva (or gums) and periodontitis is inflammation around your teeth—also the gingiva.
Dentists assess the level of inflammatory gum disease by assessing the color, texture, and appearance of your gums. We also check the depth between your gum and your tooth (pocket depth) by inserting a special ruler, called a periodontal probe, into the pocket. We also note the amount of bleeding while probing, any exudate while probing, and tooth mobility. Dental x-rays allow us to see the bone level around your teeth.
Though it’s easy to ignore bleeding around your teeth, it is estimated that if the inside of each pocket around each tooth has inflamed tissue, it adds up to a surface the size of the palm of your hand. If the entire palm of your hand was bleeding, you’d be concerned and seek treatment.
Gum disease is chronic inflammation. It’s not the healthy, healing inflammation we experience right after an injury. In chronic inflammation there is more destruction of tissue than what our healing response can repair. Unfortunately, chronic inflammation is often painless. We don’t get the pain response that drives us to have treatment.
Regular dental cleanings and the use of antimicrobials can often get periodontitis under control, but it never truly goes away. If you miss your dental cleanings or don’t keep up on your home care, you will allow the gum disease to gain another foothold and start breaking down your gum tissue and bone again. Your dentist will need to tailor your cleaning frequency to your specific situation. You may need to go once every few weeks or once every few months. Unfortunately, this must be independent of your dental insurance benefits—your dental insurance may say they’ll only pay once every six months, but you may need to go more often than that for your best dental health.
*Note: Information in this article is not meant to replace the judgment of your healthcare providers.
Dr. Jennifer Robb is a general dentist who sees both adults and children
1612 Cooper Foster Park Rd.
Lorain, OH 44053