There are a lot of things you can blame on your genes – never got that growth spurt you were expecting? Clearly the fault of your 5' mother. Premature balding? Thanks, Dad. However, what about oral health? We know learning good oral hygiene at an early age (and practicing it) is the key to healthy teeth and gums, but could you be predisposed to periodontal disease? The answer might surprise you.
What is Gum Disease?
Gum disease, also known as periodontitis, is an inflammatory disease that causes ongoing gum infection. It starts when plaque, a sticky, bacteria-filled film, builds up under and along the gum line. Plaque can cause infections, including gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease.
When gingivitis is left untreated, it can advance to periodontitis. In patients with periodontitis, the inner layer of the gum and bone pull away from the teeth and form pockets. Debris can collect in these small spaces and become infected. As the plaque spreads and grows below the gum line, the body's immune system fights the bacteria. During this stage, toxins produced by the bacteria in plaque and the body's enzymes involved in fighting infections start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place. As the disease progresses, the pockets deepen, and more gum tissue and bone are destroyed, often resulting in tooth loss.
Unfortunately, gum disease is all too common; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that almost half (47%) of all Americans over the age of 30 show signs of gum disease, and 9% of adults are impacted by severe gum disease.
What Triggers Periodontitis?
Periodontitis is a complex condition that's not easily traced to a single factor. Instead, a combination of environmental and genetic elements is believed to contribute to susceptibility. However, the degree to which each plays a role is debatable.
For example, one study in the Journal of Periodontology compared the oral hygiene of identical and fraternal twins. The results showed that identical twins were also more likely to have similar periodontal health compared to non-identical twins. In conclusion, the study claims that susceptibility to gum disease is half the result of genetics and otherwise due to external factors.
Essentially, this means that if you suffer from chronic periodontitis, there is some chance your children could experience similar difficulties as they grow up. More important, though, is recognizing that you can control environmental factors to prevent yourself and your child from developing further problems.
Preventing Periodontal Disease
While gum disease is not reversible, it is preventable. The following simple steps can help prevent bacterial infection or reduce inflammation, even if genetics are not on your side:
- Brush and floss - Brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss regularly. If you have bridges, implants, or wide spaces between your teeth, it may be helpful to use interdental brushes (toothpick-like pieces with tiny bristles at one end) to clear trapped food.
- Don't smoke – One more reason to quit (or never start)! People who smoke up to half a pack of cigarettes per day are almost three times as likely as nonsmokers to have periodontitis; those who smoke more than a pack and a half of cigarettes per day have nearly six times the risk.
- Eat a healthy diet - A diet rich in vegetables and vegetable oils, fruits, legumes, nuts, and fatty fish helps suppress inflammation. In addition, there is some evidence that people whose diets are high in omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish, have a reduced risk of periodontal disease.
- Maintain regular dental check-ups – Don't overlook the importance of professional oral health advice. See your dentist every six months for regular examinations, including gum screening and professional care.
Contact Our Office With Questions
Remember, genetics may increase your likelihood of gum disease, but they don't always foretell the future. Focus on factors that are in your control, like maintaining a good oral hygiene routine, and if you have any questions or concerns about periodontal disease, reach out to our dental team.