Gingivitis, also generally called gum disease or periodontal disease, begins with bacterial growth in your mouth and may end -- if not properly treated -- with tooth loss due to destruction of the tissue that surrounds your teeth.
What's the Difference Between Gingivitis and Periodontitis?
Gingivitis (gum inflammation) usually precedes periodontitis (gum disease). However, it is important to know that not all gingivitis progresses to periodontitis.
In the early stage of gingivitis, bacteria in plaque build up, causing the gums to become inflamed and to easily bleed during tooth brushing. Although the gums may be irritated, the teeth are still firmly planted in their sockets. No irreversible bone or other tissue damage has occurred at this stage.
When gingivitis is left untreated, it can advance to periodontitis. In a person with periodontitis, the inner layer of the gum and bone pull away from the teeth and form pockets. These small spaces between teeth and gums collect debris and can become infected. The body's immune system fights the bacteria as the plaque spreads and grows below the gum line.
Toxins or poisons -- produced by the bacteria in plaque as well as the body's "good" enzymes involved in fighting infections -- start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place. As the disease progresses, the pockets deepen and more gum tissue and bone are destroyed. When this happens, teeth are no longer anchored in place, they become loose, and tooth loss occurs. Gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults.
UK researchers have found another reason for us to keep brushing and flossing our teeth: the same gum bacteria that cause dental plaque can escape from the mouth into the bloodstream and trigger clots that increase risk of heart attack and heart disease.
The study that led to this finding was the work of University of Bristol researchers, in collaboration with scientists at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland (also called the RCSI) and was presented Monday at the Society for General Microbiology's autumn meeting that is running from 6-9 September at the University of Nottingham, UK.
Dr Howard Jenkinson, professor of Oral Microbiology at Bristol's School of Oral and Dental Science, presented the findings at the meeting. He said in a press statement that:
"Poor dental hygiene can lead to bleeding gums, providing bacteria with an escape route into the bloodstream, where they can initiate blood clots leading to heart disease."
He said we all need to be aware that it's not only diet, exercise, cholesterol and blood pressure that we should keep an eye on, but it's also important to have good dental hygiene to reduce our risk of heart problems.
Tooth plaque and gum disease are what happens when Streptococcus bacteria build up in our mouths when we don't brush and floss regularly. Gum disease makes gums sore and they bleed, allowing the bacteria to get into the bloodstream.
In their study, Jenkinson and colleagues found that once Streptococcus bacteria get into the bloodstream, they use a protein called PadA which sits on their outer surface, to hijack blood platelets and force them to clump together and make blood clots.