Symptoms of Gum Disease
One problem with getting gum disease treatment is that the symptoms can start subtle at first. Some of the symptoms include:
- Red or swollen gums
- Bleeding gums
- Sensitive teeth and gums
- Receding gums
- Persistent bad breath or foul taste in mouth
- Loose or shifting teeth
- Visible pus around teeth
If you see these symptoms, it’s important to see a dentist to avoid tooth loss and other oral health consequences.
How Gum Disease Leads to Tooth Loss
Gum disease is an infection of the area around your teeth, which is why it’s also called periodontal disease (“perio” means around and “dont” means tooth). As bacteria (and, rarely, viruses or fungi) grow in the area around your teeth, they destroy the gums, bones, and other support structures for your teeth.
Initially, your body will try to fight the infection, and it will send immune cells to the area, causing inflammation (redness and swelling). As the infection grows, many bacteria have the power to corrupt the immune response, turning your body against itself. This can speed the loss of support around your teeth.
As the infection continues to worsen, your body may even intentionally begin destroying its own tissue as part of its attempt to eliminate what it sees as a dangerous invasion by harmful bacteria.
The progress of gum disease may be slow at first, but, if left untreated, it can sometimes become very rapid.
We describe the first stages of gum disease as gingivitis. This is not serious and won’t necessarily lead to tooth loss. As gum disease becomes more serious, it is called periodontitis. Periodontitis can lead to tooth loss. Gingivitis doesn’t always become periodontitis. The transition depends on your oral hygiene, the types of bacteria involved in your infection, and your genetic susceptibility.
How Gum Disease Affects Your Health
Gum disease is a chronic infection, as if you had a red, painful wound on your hand that doesn’t heal for months. This infection increases your body’s susceptibility to serious health conditions, including:
- Heart disease
- Autoimmune disorders
- Oral, breast, lung, colon, and pancreatic cancer
Bacteria in your mouth can travel to every part of your body. They can go through blood vessels to your heart, where they can infect the heart or build up in arterial plaque that can lead to heart failure and stroke.
Bacteria can be inhaled and may make a major contribution to pneumonia risk, especially for denture wearers who keep dentures in at night.
We’ve talked about how gum disease is a chronic infection. It puts your immune system at a permanently heightened state, what we call systemic inflammation. Systemic inflammation is linked to dementia, and people with gum disease are at an elevated risk for early onset dementia.
The chronic heightened state of the immune system and the corrupting influence of oral bacteria can cause your immune system to start attacking your body. We call this an autoimmune disorder. Rheumatoid arthritis, where the body attacks your joints, is one that is commonly associated with gum disease.
Inflammation can cause genetic damage to your cells. This can lead to the origin of cancers throughout the body. Some oral bacteria have even been shown to “cloak” cancer cells from your immune system, allowing small tumors to grow larger.