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Many patients do not consider periodontal disease to be a serious threat to their health. After all, mild cases of periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, can usually be improved with better oral hygiene, they reason. However, it is a mistake not to take gum disease seriously because if it is left untreated, periodontal disease can cause tooth loss, bone loss, gum tissue loss, and even serious infections in other parts of the body.

Periodontal disease begins when bacteria are allowed to accumulate in the mouth. This often happens when patients do not practice the proper techniques for brushing and flossing, or when they brush and floss too infrequently. Brushing and flossing can help remove the harmful bacteria that cause periodontal disease, as well as the sugars the serve as the fuel for the bacteria. When a patient is not brushing or flossing correctly, or when they are not brushing or flossing often enough, the bacteria accumulates, causing the inflammation that is associated with periodontal disease.

Over time, bacteria can increase, causing loss of gum tissue, connective tissue, and bone. This causes teeth to detach from connective tissue and may permanently detach over time. Even worse, the bacteria may enter the blood stream and spread to other parts of the body or become aspirated and enter the lungs.

Periodontal disease has been linked to a number of problems with general health. When the bacteria enter the lungs, it causes respiratory diseases such as pneumonia (2).  Medical studies indicate that patients with periodontal disease are more at risk for developing pneumonia and other respiratory ailments.

Gum disease has also been linked to a greater incidence of heart disease and strokes (2). Currently, medical researchers are not sure why the presence of periodontal disease increases the risk and severity of heart disease and strokes. However, the link may be created by the bacteria that cause the periodontal disease, or it may be that the bacteria in the oral cavity trigger a more widespread inflammatory response throughout the body, making heart disease and stroke more likely.

Diabetes and periodontal disease have also been linked together (3). Patients with diabetes have higher blood glucose levels. Because sugars are the fuel that the bacteria use to grow and multiply, this elevated glucose level provides an ideal environment for the bacteria that cause periodontal disease to harbor. In fact, research indicates that most diabetics have some degree of periodontal disease. Patients with diabetes must be vigilant about their oral hygiene to eliminate as much of the bacteria and sugars from their mouth as possible.

The tooth loss associated with severe cases of periodontal disease may also trigger chronic kidney disease, known as CKD (4). Patients who have lost all of their natural teeth are much more likely to develop CKD, which in turn leads to elevated blood pressure, heart disease, kidney failure, and poor bone health.

Periodontal disease during pregnancy has also been linked to preterm birth (5). Women with periodontal disease are much more likely to give birth prematurely than women without the condition. Pregnant women, like diabetics, are also more prone to periodontal disease, which means that they must increase their efforts to take good care of their oral health.

If you are exhibiting symptoms of periodontal disease, or if you have a condition that has been linked to periodontal disease, it is important to schedule an appointment with your Los Angeles periodontist. The earlier periodontal disease is caught, the easier it is for the dentist to treat and the less likely it is that the overall health will be negatively affected.







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