Half of Americans 30 and older, and almost half of Kentuckians that age, have advanced gum disease that can lead to tooth loss

Half of Americans aged 30 and older have a disease of the gums called periodontitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If left untreated, gum disease can not only lead to tooth loss, but can also lead to other health problems like heart disease and diabetes.

The CDC data found that 45 percent of Kentuckians aged 30 and older had periodontitis, with nearly 9 percent of those cases considered severe.

Periodontal disease is an inflammation of the gum tissues and the bone that supports the teeth. It is usually caused by bacteria that is found in a sticky substance called plaque that builds up on a person’s teeth along the gum line. If plaque is allowed to harden, it becomes tartar, and can spread below the gum line, which can then only be removed by a dental health professional.

Symptoms of early gum disease, called gingivitis, include red, swollen or tender gums that may bleed when you brush. In this early stage, gum disease can usually be resolved by brushing your teeth more efficiently, using a fluoride toothpaste, using an antibacterial mouthwash and flossing daily.

But if left untreated, it can advance to a more serious condition called periodontitis, where the inner layer of the gum and bone pull away from the teeth and form pockets, which can collect debris and become infected, according to WebMD. At this advanced stage, gum tissue and the bones that support the teeth are destroyed, which can put a person at great risk of tooth loss.

Research has also found links between periodontal disease and heart disease, diabetes, dementia, rheumatoid arthritis and premature births. And though the researchers don’t know exactly why this is, they think it is related to the bacteria and inflammation that is associated with advanced gum disease, says WebMD.

At the point gingivitis has progressed to periodontitis, it’s time to see a dentist who may refer you to a specialist.

“Periodontists are trained to identify and address periodontal disease,” Diksha Katwal, a diplomate at the American Board of Periodontology and pre-doctoral director at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry, said in a UofL news release. “These dental professionals exam each tooth above and below the gum line to determine if a person has the condition. ”

WebMD says anyone with the following symptoms should see their dentist:

  • changes in the way your teeth fit together
  • formation of deep pockets between teeth and gums
  • gums that bleed during and after toothbrushing
  • loose or shifting teeth
  • persistent bad breath or bad taste in the mouth
  • receding gums
  • red, swollen, or tender gums

Katwal adds that it’s important to visit a dentist at least once a year for a checkup, and more frequently if you have periodontitis.

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