We tend to tune out when we hear unfamiliar words, but when it comes to gum disease here's what's important to know.
In our mouths, just like in our guts, lives a community of billions of bacteria. This is called an oral biofilm. When this biofilm is healthy it protects the health of our mouths and our bodies. But when the biofilm is damaged, it produces an overabundance of harmful bacteria that can damage not only our gums, but our entire body.
Sticky plaque and hard tartar are types of harmful biofilms that collect on our teeth and around the gum line. Unless this harmful biofilm is reduced and controlled with good oral care or proper dental treatments, it will accumulate and break through the gums, causing infection and inflammation and weakening our immune system.
Periodontal disease is the medical term for gum disease. When harmful bacteria accumulate in the mouth they form plaque and tartar that attack the teeth and gums. Left untreated, they can break through the gums that form a seal around the teeth. Then gums bleed or form open pockets and harmful bacteria enter the bloodstream and spread through the body. Plaque also releases toxins that irritate and inflame the gums. When gum disease is left untreated it becomes a constant source of inflammation, which lowers the body’s immune response.
Gingivitis (inflammation of the gum tissue) is a mild form of gum disease. For many people, daily brushing and cleaning between the teeth and regular professional cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist can prevent gingivitis.
However, if you have gingivitis and you don't do something about it, it can advance to periodontitis. This is a more serious form of gum disease where the gums start to pull away from the teeth, fill with more bacteria and become infected. As bacteria multiply beneath the gum line, infection starts to break down the bone and tissue that hold teeth in place. If left untreated, teeth may become loose and have to be removed. At the same time, harmful bacteria spread through the body, causing additional inflammation and disease.
If you suspect you may have gum disease, talk to a dentist, periodontist or dental hygienist. The earlier it's treated, the healthier your gums – and you – will be.