By Lee R. Cohen, D.D.S., M.S., M.S. –
Imagine that as you read this article, blood is continually dripping from any part of your body. My assumption is that you, like almost anyone, would immediately attend to the issue and if necessary seek medical attention right away. Now let us compare this to a similar situation occurring in the mouth. It is amazing how many patients we see who when asked the question, “do your gums ever bleed”, answer with “yes, whenever I brush my teeth”. There really is no reason to consider one issue less important than another, yet for some reason we tend to overlook problems in the mouth more readily than elsewhere in the body. In fact, many significant illnesses or diseases are first identified in the oral cavity.
Periodontal (Gum) Disease
Periodontal disease is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the gum tissue and bone supporting the teeth. If left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to tooth loss. Although there are a number of types of periodontal disease, there are primarily two main forms: Gingivitis and Periodontitis. Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums without bone loss. In most cases (not all), if this is left untreated it progresses to Periodontitis, inflammation of the gums along with bone loss around the teeth involved. Periodontal disease has been linked to other inflammatory diseases such as cardiovascular disease and Diabetes. It has also been found that periodontal disease can be spread to your partner from shared toothbrushes and kissing.
Prevalence of the Disease
A recent, major study of the Center for Disease Control found that 50% of Americans over the age of 30 has some form of Periodontitis (from mild to severe). That means one of every two individuals reading this has the disease. The study also found that the disease occurs more often in men (56.4% vs. 38.4%) and occurs most often in Mexican-Americans (66.7%). Smokers also have a higher percentage of the disease (64.2%). The disease tends to be more prevalent with age, which is an important fact since we see a significant portion of our population living longer lives and retaining more teeth.
Issues Related to Periodontal Disease
This very prevalent disease can have a significant impact on both the health of your mouth and your body as a whole. The most obvious concern is the potential loss of teeth related to periodontitis. As the disease and the inflammatory process proceeds, we see a loss of bone support around the teeth. This first usually leads to longer looking teeth and a more unpleasant smile. Ultimately, teeth can be lost impacting your ability to chew and function on a daily basis.
In addition to the impact on the mouth, there is an increasing amount of research linking this bacterial infection and inflammation in the mouth to more systemic diseases. There has not yet been a direct cause and effect relationship established between periodontal and other diseases, but a link between diseases have been found. Cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, premature-low birth weight newborns, Diabetes, along with a host of other issues have already been related to periodontal disease.
What Can Be Done
The first and most simple thing to do is to have a complete, periodontal examination. This typically includes a painless, full mouth evaluation of the gum and bone health around your mouth. Recent dental x-rays and a clinical evaluation can help detect both early and established periodontal issues that you may not be aware of in your mouth. In some cases a sign may be present in one person, but not in another. Bleeding, for example, is often a tip off to patients of some form of gum disease. This easy to see sign may not be present in a smoker due to the thicker tissue that develops in the mouth in response to the smoke.
Treatment for mild disease may be as simple as a visit to the hygienist. More advanced treatment is typically performed by a Periodontist. The treatment can vary based on individual needs of each patient. Newer therapy modalities are now available that are relatively pain free and can help save teeth without the fear of discomfort.
Lee R. Cohen, D.D.S., M.S., M.S., is a Dual Board Certified Periodontal and Dental Implant Surgeon. He is a graduate of Emory University and New York University College of Dentistry.
Dr. Cohen completed his surgical training at the University of Florida / Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida. He served as Chief Resident and currently holds a staff appointment as a Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Periodontics and Dental Implantology. Dr. Cohen lectures, teaches and performs clinical research on topics related to his surgical specialty.
The focus of his interests are conservative approaches to treating gum, bone and tooth loss. He utilizes advanced techniques including the use of the Periolase Dental Laser (LANAP procedure) to help save teeth and treat periodontal disease without the use of traditional surgical procedures. Additionally, he uses in-office, state of the art 3D CT imaging to develop the least invasive dental implant and bone regeneration treatment options. Dr. Cohen and his facility are state certified to perform both IV and Oral Sedation procedures.
Dr. Cohen currently serves on the Board of Trustees for the American Academy of Periodontology and the Florida Dental Association. He is past president of the Florida Association of Periodontists and the Atlantic Coast District Dental Association. In addition, Dr. Cohen has been awarded Fellowship in the American College of Dentists, International College of Dentists and the Pierre Fauchard Academy.
Lee R. Cohen, D.D.S., M.S., M.S.
4520 Donald Ross Road, Suite 110
Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418