February is Gum Disease Awareness Month

dentalBy Pamela Stern

The month of February is a short month but, it has a lot to offer; Black History Month, Valentine’s Day and President’s Day, but February also is Gum Disease Awareness Month.

Most of us don’t even think about our gums and we should. Gum disease can attribute to many different serious health issues. We might not even think about it but our mouths are full of bacteria. Bacteria, along with mucus and particles, form a sticky, colorless “plaque” on teeth. Brushing and flossing can help get rid of plaque, but when plaque hardens and forms “tartar” only a professional dentist can remove the “tartar.” This is a good reason that one should keep up with their dental cleanings. The longer that tartar builds up on your teeth, the more harmful that it can be. Once the tartar builds up and isn’t addressed it form “gingivitis.” Gingivitis is when the gums become red, swollen and can bleed easily; this form of gum disease can usually be reversed by being diligent with brushing and flossing, along with keeping up with regular cleanings by your dentist. When gingivitis is not treated it can advance to “periodontitis” (which is an inflammation around the tooth), which is when the gums pull away from the teeth and form spaces or “pockets” that then becomes infected. If not treated, the bones, gums, and tissue that support the teeth are destroyed. At this point the teeth may become loose and might have to be removed.

The New York State Department of Health reports that a greater percentage of individuals at lower annual income levels have communicated that they have had a tooth extracted which was due to dental cavities or periodontal disease (65%). Compared to national data, more New York State adults report never having had a tooth extracted as a result of cavities or periodontal disease. Nationally, 48% of adults, 35 to 44 years of age have been diagnosed with gingivitis and 20% with destructive periodontal disease. Comparable data are not available for New York State.

In New York City, nearly 60% of adults are at an increased risk for oral health problems due to behavioral or medical risk factors and 53% of adults have had at least one tooth extracted, and 25% of adults aged 65 years and older have had all of their teeth extracted because of periodontal disease or tooth decay.

There are some risk factors for gum disease: smoking, hormonal changes in girls/women, diabetes, medications, and genetic susceptibility.

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, these risk factors can attribute to gum disease. Your best bet is to be committed to taking care of your teeth by going to the dentist for regular checkups and cleanings.