The primary form of periodontal disease occurs when bacteria invade the gums, bones, and tissue that support the teeth. More than 75% of adults over age 35 suffer from periodontal disease, but most don't realize it until substantial damage has already occurred. Often painless, gum disease progresses relentlessly: gums separate from teeth, pockets form and deepen, and bacteria-produced toxins destroy tissue. While in its earliest stage, known as gingivitis, professional dental care and good oral hygiene can reverse the periodontal siege.
For hundreds of years, people have recognized a connection between oral infections and systemic conditions. More recent investigations have found an association between gum disease and cardiovascular disease, low birth-weight babies, respiratory infections, and diabetes. One study found people with periodontal bone loss had twice the chance of fatal heart disease. The exact mechanism that increases cardiovascular risk remains murky, but experts believe bacteria from the chronic gum infection enter the bloodstream and cause white blood cells (which fight infections) to release materials that create a build-up of fatty deposits and clots in the arteries.
Brush inner, outer, and chewing surfaces at least twice daily with a soft-bristled brush held at a 45° angle. Some people find electric brushes easier to use.
Floss at least once daily, gently guiding the floss between teeth. While holding floss taut and curved around each tooth, slide the floss up and down. Continue, using a clean section of floss for each tooth.
Obtain professional dental cleaning every six months, more often if you are prone to plaque or gingivitis. "It's probably the best investment an adult can make in terms of preventing periodontal disease and decay," Caton says.
Ask for an annual periodontal screening and assessment of the degree to which gum tissue has pulled away from teeth.