By Harshada Rajani
One in every two American adults are living with gingivitis, and some don’t even know it. Gingivitis is the initial form of gum disease (periodontal disease) that leads to swollen, inflamed and reddened gums. That pesky arch-nemesis of healthy teeth – plaque – is once again the infamous star of this story. Bacteria-filled plaque accumulates naturally on teeth, but if it isn’t adequately removed, through daily brushing and flossing, it can cause gingivitis. Gingivitis may even be linked to the progression of seemingly unrelated diseases throughout the body.
If gingivitis is left untreated, it can lead to an even more severe type of gum disease known as periodontitis, that results in gum and jawbone breakdown. In periodontitis, the inner gum layer pulls away from the teeth and forms an empty pocket in its wake. Debris can collect in these pockets and cause infection, which leads to extensive destruction of the connective tissue and bone holding teeth in place. So, what starts as a simple case of plaque growth can eventually result in painful and costly tooth loss if left untreated.
Healthy gums are firm, pale pink and fitted securely around the teeth. If gums become swollen, tender, bleed easily or begin to recede, these symptoms could indicate early signs of gum disease. As soon as you notice any of these signs, it’s crucial to make an appointment to see your dentist. The highly-trained dental hygienists are equipped with the latest tools and techniques needed to completely remove unwanted plaque. Dental visits are absolutely vital for reversing the effects of gingivitis and preventing the harmful progression to periodontitis.
On an even more serious note, bacteria in gum disease can not only spread inflammation to underlying tissue, but it can also spread to almost every other system in the body. While the plaque that builds up on teeth that causes gingivitis is linked to the plaque in arteries that causes cardiovascular disease, the plaques are of completely different substances. But, a recent study in the Science Advances journal found that a protein found in gingivitis plaques is in fact the same protein present in Alzheimer’s disease.
Poryphyromonas gingivalis is the bacteria that builds up on teeth in gingivitis. It gives off an enzyme called gingipains, which some believe is the main cause of Alzheimer’s, but other experts in the field believe that the link isn’t quite so simple. The study, however, found the toxic enzyme in over 90% of the samples of brain tissue from patients with the neurological disease. Learning more about gum disease could help scientists uncover a possible treatment for a disease that has confounded the medical world for decades.
Good oral hygiene and regular dental visits is the uncontested winning formula for preventing all types of gum disease. Further research is needed to determine whether preventing gum disease has any effect on preventing Alzheimer’s. But for now, keeping bacteria-filled plaque at bay is the most promising method to ensure oral health.