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A recent study found that nearly half of adults over age 30 have periodontitis, a gum disease that can impact both your mouth and wallet. Here's how to prevent it.

You may not know what it is – or even have heard of it – but there’s nearly a 50/50 chance you’re suffering from periodontitis, says a recent study.

Periodontitis is the worse of two types of gum disease. (The other type is gingivitis.) It’s basically a nasty bacterial infection that can be chronic, or long-lasting.

According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in the Aug. 30 issue of the Journal of Dental Research, 47 percent of adults age 30 or older – and 70 percent of adults age 65 or older – have mild, moderate, or severe periodontitis.

The good news is that periodontitis can be prevented, or at least prevented from worsening. The bad news is that if you ignore it, it will take its toll on your teeth, your overall health, and your savings.

In fact, the American Academy of Periodontology was so alarmed by the findings of the CDC study – which they called “the most comprehensive survey of periodontal health ever conducted in the U.S.” – they created a nifty infographic and issued a press release about it…

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. Research has also shown that periodontal disease is associated with other chronic inflammatory diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Now, perhaps you’re thinking that the AAP is just being alarmist to help line the pockets of periodontists, the dentists who specialize in the gums and structures that support the teeth. (The prefix peri- means around, so periodontology is the science of the areas around teeth.)

The thing is, just about every other respected medical entity cites equally concerning facts about how common periodontitis is and how many health conditions it can affect…

  • Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin: “Chronic inflammation, resulting from a periodontal disease, is responsible for 70 percent of all adult tooth losses, and affects 75 percent of people at some point in their lives.”
  • University of Maryland Medical Center: “More than 75 percent of American adults have some form of gum disease…. Gum inflammation and ulcers are common, and not all people with these problems develop periodontal disease. Still, about 30 percent of people are genetically susceptible to periodontal disease.”
  • Mayo Clinic: “Did you know … that problems in your mouth can affect the rest of your body? … Your oral health may affect, be affected by or contribute to various diseases and conditions, including: endocarditis [infection of the lining of the heart], cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease.”
  • American Dental Hygienists’ Association: “Research has identified periodontal (gum) disease as a risk factor for heart and lung disease, diabetes, premature, low birth weight babies and a number of other conditions…. The signs and symptoms of many potentially life-threatening diseases appear in the mouth first.”

Gum disease is even the No. 1 medical condition among cats and dogs, say the Veterinary Oral Health Council and American Veterinary Dental College.

How to prevent gum disease

We’ve compiled these tips from the American Academy of Periodontology, Mayo Clinic, and WebMD. Some may cost you a little in the short-term, but they can save you a lot more in the long-run…

  • Know your risk. Certain populations are more likely to develop gum disease. The CDC study found that more men (56.4 percent) have periodontitis than women (38.4 percent), and that Mexican-Americans (66.7 percent) have it more than other races. Medications with certain side effects, like dry mouth, can also make you more susceptible to gum disease.
  • Quit smoking. The study also found that periodontitis is more common in smokers (64.2 percent). Other tobacco products can be “extremely damaging” to your gums too, according to WebMD.
  • Brush at least twice a day, and floss daily – which one-third of people admit to omitting, as we reported in January. The Mayo Clinic says periodontitis is usually the result of poor oral hygiene, which may be why the CDC study found the disease is more common in people living below the poverty line (65.4 percent) and people with less than a high-school education (66.9 percent).
  • Get regular dental cleanings. The Mayo Clinic also says that professional cleanings, combined with daily brushing and flossing, can “greatly” reduce your chances of developing periodontitis.
  • Get a complete periodontal exam, ideally once a year. Your general dentist can perform it if you’d rather avoid periodontists.
  • Relax. Stress raises your levels of a hormone called cortisol, which can increase inflammation. But we’ve got 7 Cheap Ways to Relieve Stress.
Stacy Johnson

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