Periodontitis is a set of inflammatory diseases affecting the periodontium, i.e., the tissues that surround and support the teeth. Periodontitis involves progressive loss of the alveolar bone around the teeth, and if left untreated, can lead to the loosening and subsequent loss of teeth. Periodontitis is caused by microorganisms that adhere to and grow on the tooth's surfaces, along with an overly aggressive immune response against these microorganisms. A diagnosis of periodontitis is established by inspecting the soft gum tissues around the teeth with a probe (i.e. a clinical exam) and by evaluating the patient's x-ray films (i.e. a radiographic exam), to determine the amount of bone loss around the teeth. Specialists in the treatment of periodontitis are periodontists; their field is known as "periodontology" or "periodontics".
In the early stages, periodontitis has very few symptoms and in many individuals the disease has progressed significantly before they seek treatment. Symptoms may include the following:
Redness or bleeding of gums while brushing teeth, using dental floss or biting into hard food (e.g. apples) (though this may occur even in gingivitis, where there is no attachment loss)
Gum swelling that recurs
Spitting out blood after brushing teeth
Faced with plummeting investments and an unsteady job market, many Americans are feeling the effects of the recent economic crisis. In fact, a recent study by the American Psychological Association found that over 80 percent of Americans rank money and the economy as significant causes of stress. And while chronic stress can lead to a host of health problems, including a weakened immune system and increased blood pressure, it can also take its toll on periodontal health. If left untreated, periodontal disease may result in even more serious, and potentially expensive, overall health complications.
Stress and Your Smile
According to David Cochran, DDS, PhD, President of the American Academy of Periodontology and Chair of the Department of Periodontics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, stress can make an individual more susceptible to harmful habits that negatively impact oral health. "Stress may lead an individual to abuse tobacco or alcohol, and to possibly even neglect his or her oral hygiene. These lifestyle choices are known risk factors for the development of periodontal disease, which has been connected to several other chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes."
A study published in the February 2009 Journal of Periodontology (JOP) confirmed that stress may interfere with oral hygiene. In the study, 56 percent of participants self-reported that stress led them to neglect regular brushing and flossing. In addition, the hormone cortisol may also play a role in the connection between stress and gum disease. Chronic stress is associated with higher and more prolonged levels of cortisol; previous research has found that increased amounts of cortisol in the bloodstream can lead to a more destructive form of periodontal disease.