By Dr. Jeremy Ueno
These days, most of us are actively looking for ways to stay healthy — whether that’s squeezing in a yoga class on Zoom or eating foods that boost the immune system. And yet we often overlook the crucial role that oral health plays in our physical well being.
It’s a not-so-secret fact that healthier gums are directly tied to a healthier body. But how does that link work exactly? When you have periodontal disease, bacteria from your mouth can migrate into your bloodstream and cause inflammation throughout the body. This can lead to heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, a worsening of diabetes, and other health issues.
Periodontal disease can also result in lowered immunity and a higher susceptibility to infections and viruses. And that’s the last thing anyone wants right now! In fact, a new report published online in the Journal of the California Dental Association shows a link between gum disease and severe, potentially life-threatening complications from COVID-19. There’s never been a better time to take good care of your oral health.
So let’s talk about what periodontal disease is and what causes it. Essentially, it’s an inflammatory response that destroys the supporting structures of the teeth. This includes your bone, gums, and the periodontal ligament, which holds your teeth in the bone — all critical components for a smile that will last a lifetime.
Though factors such as genetics can make you more susceptible to inflammation, periodontal disease is always driven by bacteria in the mouth. These organisms form a sticky film — you probably know it as plaque — and produce toxins that trigger inflammation. If you suffer from red, swollen, and bleeding gums, it’s likely you have the mildest form of this inflammation, called gingivitis.
If plaque bacteria isn’t removed, the inflammation will get progressively worse and your gums will begin pulling away from the teeth. Over time, the damage becomes more extensive, and can eventually cause you to lose bone and teeth. Ouch! Needless to say, the sooner you take steps to prevent or treat periodontal disease, the better.
Good hygiene is the key to preventing periodontal disease. It starts at home, with proper brushing twice a day and flossing once daily. Other at-home measures include using an antimicrobial mouthwash and taking probiotics that are specifically geared toward the bacteria that live in your mouth.
Also, pay attention to how you sleep. If you snooze with your mouth open, you’ll likely experience dry mouth and a decrease in saliva. This means bacteria can grow without being washed away, potentially leading to gingivitis and bad breath. Decreased saliva also causes higher acidity in your mouth, which can erode tooth enamel. If you’re a mouth breather, talk to your dental professional, who may be able to help you identify causes and solutions.
While at-home measures are the cornerstone of prevention, you still need to see your dentist regularly for cleanings. Professional cleanings are the only way to remove hard bacterial deposits, called calculus, off of your teeth. Your dentist can also prescribe products such as Perio Protect, which delivers bacteria-fighting medicine beneath your gum line.
That’s the equation: Proper hygiene + high quality oral health aids + a consistent professional cleaning schedule = beating periodontal disease and staying healthy. And there’s never been a more important time to do so!
Dr. Jeremy Ueno, DMD, is a board-certified periodontist with a thriving practice at the Ueno Dental Center in Campbell, CA. He regularly lectures on trending topics in periodontology and implantology, and is especially interested in the intersection of medicine and technology.