Gum disease affects 56.4% of all American men and 38.4% of all women—more than one in three. The incidence is higher among smokers, a high 64.2%. Treating the disease and eliminating its causes to prevent future occurrences can be quite difficult. Without treatment, gum inflammation progresses to advanced periodontitis and can damage the periodontal tissues (both gum and bone) surrounding the base of teeth, causing the gums to recede, teeth to become loose, and tooth roots to decay.

As bad as this sounds, these are not the only effects. Not only does untreated gum disease lead to tooth, bone and soft tissue infection in the mouth and often tooth loss; it also affects your overall health and can shorten your life. Established and emerging science continues to link chronic low-grade infection in the mouth with inflammation that impacts all systems of the body.

Remember these two simple facts:

1. Our mouths are teeming with bacteria.

2. When your gum tissue and teeth are compromised, the bacteria in your mouth, as well as viruses, gain entry into your bloodstream, traveling it like a highway throughout your body.

The relationship between oral diseases and systemic disease has been heavily researched over the years, with the bulk of the literature focused on the roles that inflammation and bacteria play in the mouth-body connection. Bacteria in the mouth not only contribute to cavities and oral cancer, they can also be transferred to the lungs, create rheumatoid arthritis in the jaw joints, and cause chronic headaches. They have been shown to exacerbate and be a contributing factor in all inflammatory diseases of the body, for example, diabetes, cardiovascular/cerebrovascular disease, kidney disease, respiratory disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, dementia, obesity, metabolic syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and cancer. Oral bacteria can even contribute to adverse pregnancy outcomes. Untreated inflammation in the mouth elevates levels of systemic inflammation and may actually cause vascular disease, respiratory disease, dementia, and diabetes in otherwise healthy individuals.

Since periodontal disease is recognized as a medical problem, physicians have a responsibility to consider chronic oral infections as a possible reason for, or warning sign of, systemic inflammation. Today, progressive dentists and physicians are collaborating on patient care. They understand that the significance of numerous mouth-body connections cannot be overestimated.

If you want to lead the healthiest, longest life you can, you must take into account the importance of preventing and treating oral disease. When you are aware of the risks, causes and symptoms of periodontal disease, and the connection between oral health and other health issues, you will want to take an active role in your own oral healthcare. For long life and best health, it is essential that you go for regular periodontal assessments and accept treatment as needed.