man holding head in shadows

Gum Disease Affects Far More Than Just Your Mouth

man holding head in shadowsGum disease isn’t just some minor annoyance. As a new review of the literature reminds, it can impact the quality of your life, as well.

The paper, published in the Journal of Periodontal Research, analyzed data from 34 cross-sectional studies that looked at perio status and quality of life among teens and adults.

Twenty-five studies demonstrated that periodontal disease was associated with a negative impact on quality of life, with severe periodontitis exerting the most significant impact by compromising aspects related to function and esthetics. Unlike periodontitis, gingivitis [early stage gum disease] was associated with pain as well as difficulties performing oral hygiene and wearing dentures. Gingivitis was also negatively correlated with comfort. The results indicate that periodontal disease may exert an impact on quality of life of individuals, with greater severity of the disease related to greater impact.

If you’re dealing with gum disease, even the thought of smiling can cause anxiety and shame. You may find it harder to brush and floss, since that often makes the tender, swollen gums bleed. Unfortunately, this sets a vicious cycle into motion. Without good hygiene, the disease progresses. In its advanced stages, bone loss and tooth loss often result.

The aesthetic concerns might lead to avoiding social situations or relationships. Indeed, other research has suggested that gum disease

may increase the risk for depression through the psychosocial effects (e.g., shame, isolation, embarrassment, loneliness) of poor oral hygiene and halitosis, frequent characteristics of patients with periodontal disease.

And in a cruel twist of fate, depression itself can lead to behaviors that contribute to periodontal disease.

Then there are the functional concerns that go along with the condition, starting with pain. Eating can become difficult or less enjoyable – such as when you have to give up favorite foods because the state of your teeth and gums makes it too hard to eat. (And the changes in nutrition that follow from that can contribute to even more health problems – oral and systemic alike – down the line.)

Dinner out with friends or coworkers can seem a nightmare.

But here’s the good news: Gum disease can be reversed. In fact, another recent study – this, in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology – found that appropriate periodontal therapy can lower the odds of losing teeth.

The risk of tooth loss was generally low under the provided non-regenerative treatment regimen; a minority of patients were responsible for the majority of teeth lost during [supportive periodontal therapy].

Such therapy typically includes scaling and root planing – in essence, very deep cleaning of the periodontal pockets – every three months. But there are other options, too, such as ozone therapy and laser treatment.

As ever, the best option depends on the specific perio situation we’re looking at, as well as your own desires, goals, and values.

And, of course, there are things you can do at home to help control, reverse, or – best of all – prevent periodontal disease from arising in the first place. Practice the preventive care we stress in holistic dentistry:

  • Make mindful food choices, favoring whole, minimally processed foods; avoiding sugars and other additives. (As always, real food is best!)

  • Practice good hygiene – and think beyond the brush. Include floss, interproximal brushes, and oral irrigators in your cleaning routine. Try oil pulling.

  • Give your body both the activity (exercise) and rest (sleep) it needs to function at its best.

  • Take steps to manage the stress in your life. (Chronic stress is a major contributor to gum disease.)

  • Address habits such as smoking, heavy drinking, and drug use that may be raising your risk of gum disease – or making your current condition that much worse.

Your future quality of life could depend on it!

Image by mattwalker69, via Flickr