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Everything You Need to Know About Periodontal Health

April 17, 2024
By Sanket R. Nagarkar, DDS, MPH
Park Dental Riverdale

Everything you need to know about periodontal health

Good oral hygiene doesn’t just prevent bad breath. It helps ensure the teeth, gums, roots and other oral structures stay strong. Not only that, but the health of those structures is linked to other systems of the body too.

What is periodontal health?

One of the key elements of good oral health is something known as periodontal health. But what exactly does that mean?

Dr. Sanket Nagarkar, a dentist at our Park Dental Riverdale practice, explained that periodontal health means healthy periodontal tissues, with ‘peri’ meaning around and ‘-odontal’ meaning tooth – tissues that surround and support the teeth. These include the supporting structures around teeth (namely the gums, or “gingiva”, the underlying bone, and the intervening periodontal ligament, which anchors the tooth root to the bone.

Why is periodontal health so important?

Because these periodontal structures keep the teeth anchored in place, taking care of them is crucial to maintaining a healthy mouth.

Nagarkar recommends regular brushing and flossing as well as using an antibacterial mouthwash to promote good periodontal health. He also recommends regular dental visits combined with cleanings to prevent issues or to catch them before they get out of hand.

Patients should know the signs of periodontal disease and seek professional care as they arise, Nagarkar added. If left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to bacteria and other harmful substances building up around the gums, leading to gum inflammation which is characterized by gum redness, soreness, bleeding and sometimes swelling and pus formation.

And, if bacteria gain access to the deeper supporting structures such as the periodontal ligament and the underlying bone, it can result in bone loss around the teeth, making them mobile and resulting in pain, infection and tooth loss.

What are the signs of periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease is frequently asymptomatic, meaning that noticeable effects, especially pain, might not show up until the disease reaches an advanced stage. Some of the signs of periodontal disease Nagarkar stresses patients should look out for include:

  • Red, swollen or tender gums
  • Bleeding during brushing, flossing or while eating certain foods
  • Persistent bad breath
  • Receding gums that make the teeth appear longer than usual
  • Teeth that feel loose or are starting to separate (space formation between the teeth)
  • Pus between the gums and teeth
  • Sores inside the mouth

How is periodontal health connected to other parts of the body?

Periodontal disease not just affects the oral cavity but can have an impact on general health as well. Nagarkar pointed to research demonstrating a link between periodontal disease and problems with other body systems such as diabetes, certain heart conditions, adverse pregnancy outcomes, respiratory diseases, Alzheimer’s disease and kidney disease.  Researchers suspect that systemic inflammation and bacterial spread from periodontal tissues may be the basis behind this relationship.

For example, bacteria associated with periodontal disease can make their way to the lungs and may contribute to respiratory diseases such as pneumonia. Research has suggested that the relationship between diabetes and periodontal disease goes both ways: People with diabetes are more likely to have periodontal disease than people without diabetes, likely because people with diabetes (especially those with uncontrolled diabetes) are more susceptible to contracting infections.

At the same time, uncontrolled periodontal disease may make it more difficult for people who have diabetes to control their blood sugar, increasing the risk for diabetic complications. Periodontal disease may also increase the risk of heart disease or worsen existing heart conditions by causing inflammatory changes in the blood vessels.

Periodontal disease has also been associated with other conditions such as kidney disease and certain cancers.

And while Nagarkar stresses that these conditions aren’t always due to the presence of periodontal disease, there are potential indirect pathways involved. Therefore, patients should be aware that maintaining periodontal health will not only enhance their oral health but will potentially also have an impact on their overall health.

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