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How You May Be At Greater Risk of Developing Periodontal Disease

Risk of Developing Periodontal Disease

A few posts back, we referenced a disturbing statistic: Nearly half of American adults have some form of periodontal disease. In adults 65 and older, it jumps to 70 percent. The more we thought about that, the less we could explain why it was happening.

Oral health care has never been more accessible, yet periodontal disease is being described as “one of the most prevalent non-communicable chronic diseases” of our time.

There is a silver lining, though. This is one of the those cases where a little awareness could have a profound effect, so we decided to dedicate a few blog posts to answering all the questions about periodontal disease you never knew to ask. In the first post, we defined what it is and outlined a few easy-to-spot symptoms. In the next one, we discussed how periodontal disease may have a hand in some seemingly unrelated and very serious conditions, like heart disease and diabetes. Here, we’re highlighting some of the things that are putting you at risk of developing periodontal disease.

Check back next month for the conclusion of the series, when we’ll get into how you can treat your periodontal disease.

(Mostly) Self-inflicted factors for Risk of Developing Periodontal Disease

Let’s be clear: The leading cause of periodontal disease is plaque, which is rarely an issue when you maintain a daily brushing and flossing routine and see your dentist or periodontist a couple of times a year.

That said, there are some unhealthy habits that trump even the most diligent oral health care regimen. Let’s start with the most obvious: smoking and tobacco use. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that either isn’t doing your mouth any favors. In fact, tobacco’s been shown to be one of the most significant risk factors in the development and progression of periodontal disease.

Stress isn’t far behind. When there’s little reprieve, your body has a harder time fighting off infection, and periodontal disease begins as an infection. The same goes for a poor diet. Not consuming an adequate amount of nutrients hamstrings your immune system.

If you’re waking on a regular basis with a sore jaw, schedule an appointment with your dentist or periodontist. Clenching or grinding your teeth can put excess strain on the tissues supporting the teeth and even destroy them. And while you’re there, share any medications you’re taking. Some drugs, such as oral contraceptives, anti-depressants, and certain heart medicines, can affect your oral health.

Likewise, if you’ve recently been diagnosed with a systemic disease, like heart disease, diabetes, or rheumatoid arthritis, make sure your dentist or periodontist knows about it. Some can interfere with your body’s inflammatory response, which can worsen the condition of your gums.

And, now, for a couple of risk factors you have no control over. Like we said, periodontal disease is most rampant in seniors, so there’s aging, for one. You may also be genetically predisposed to getting periodontal disease. More positively, getting a genetic test before you ever show signs and, if necessary, seeking treatment will likely help you keep your teeth for your lifetime.

Women, what you need to know about your Risk of Developing Periodontal Disease

Unfortunately, the threats don’t end there. Though, the risk factors still looming breakdown largely along gender lines.

Preliminary research has indicated that pregnant women with periodontal disease may be at greater risk of having a baby that’s born too early and too small. It’s still too early on to say it with any certainty, but, because any infection is a cause for concern with a pregnant woman, it’s recommended, just to be on the safe side, that you have a comprehensive periodontal evaluation if you’re considering conceiving.

Girls (and their parents) should start paying closer attention to their gums with the onset of puberty. Increased levels of sex hormones, like progesterone and possibly estrogen, may increase the gums’ sensitivity and lead to a greater reaction to an irritation, including plaque.

Up to that point, periodontal disease is rare in kids and only sometimes found in adolescents. Though, it’s a critical time to instill those oral health care habits.

Some women experience a condition called menstruation gingivitis, during which the gums may swell and bleed and sores may appear on the inside of the cheek right before the start of a period. Typically, it clears up once her period begins.

And, women who are menopausal or post-menopausal may begin to notice discomfort in their mouths, including dry mouth, pain and burning sensations in the gums, and an altered sense of taste. A small percentage of women experience a condition called menopausal gingivostomatitis, where the gums become discolored and bleed easily. Estrogen supplements can help relieve the symptoms in most women.

Each of these conditions is a kind of gingivitis, the mildest form of periodontal disease. Untreated, it can progress to periodontal disease. But, everything can be addressed during a routine checkup.

Men, what you need to know about your Risk of Developing Periodontal Disease

For men, it’s less about fending off heightened inherent risks than it is getting out of your own way.

Men are more prone to periodontal disease than women by a pretty significant margin (56 percent vs. 38 percent). There are a couple of theories on this. Men may simply experience higher incidences of plaque and bleeding gums. They may also be more reluctant to see a dentist or a periodontist, which enables minor instances of gingivitis to flourish unchecked.

But, guys, there are a slew of reasons why you need to be paying better attention to what’s going on inside your mouths. For starters, men with a history of gum disease are 14 percent more likely to develop cancer than men with healthy gums. More specifically, men with periodontal disease are 49 percent more likely to develop kidney cancer than women, 54 percent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer, and 30 percent more likely to develop blood cancers. A half-hour in the exam chair every six months doesn’t seem like such a nuisance now, does it?

There’s even more to the cancer threat. A prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is an enzyme created in the prostate that’s normally secreted in small amounts. Its levels rise, however, when the prostate becomes inflamed, infected, or affected by cancers. Research is indicating that men who show signs of periodontal disease, like swollen or tender gums, as well as prostatitis, have higher levels of PSA than men with only one of the conditions, meaning prostate health may be associated with periodontal health, and vice versa.

Not to hit you again where it hurts most, but men with periodontal disease, especially those younger than 30 and older than 70, are at increased risk of developing impotence. Researchers are thinking that prolonged chronic inflammation—the very kind associated with periodontal disease—can damage blood vessels, including the ones down there.

So much of this, for men and women, comes down to simply being more aware of your health, both overall and in your mouth. Again, the top takeaway with periodontal disease is: It’s easy to prevent.