Insidious Gum Disease is Easily Overlooked

Many scientific studies have shown a connection between diseases in the mouth and systemic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, low birth weight and pre-term birth in expecting mothers and osteoporosis. A dentist can be the first to notice signs of a body’s disease before chronic symptoms emerge. The most highly researched of all topics is the connection of gum, or periodontal, disease to some of these systemic issues. This is when bacteria accumulates inside an area between the tooth and gum called a periodontal pocket. A manual toothbrush and floss can go as deep as two or three millimeters to remove harmful bacteria and keep this area clean. But these pockets are sometimes deeper.

        At least once a year, a dentist or hygienist should be doing periodontal probing, in which a thin tool measures how deep the pockets are. Healthy gums have one to three millimeter pockets because that’s the depth we can keep them clean on our own. Once bacteria get deeper than four millimeters, it is practically impossible to keep the area clean ourselves. Bacteria builds up, multiplies and causes bone loss. Within a few months or years there is bone loss around the teeth that is typically irreversible.

        If the bacteria isn’t removed, bone loss tends to increase, and eventually a tooth becomes loose because it is no longer surrounded by a substantial amount of bone. After many years, the tooth is so loose that it needs to be removed. During the process as the bacteria builds up, it doesn’t just stay in the gums; the little bugs can travel throughout the whole body. Research has found these bugs in heart tissue, the brain and other organs. As more research comes out, we learn the importance of keeping our teeth clean and making sure we eliminate harmful bacteria so we can live healthy lives.

Bernice Teplitsky, DDS, is the owner of Wrigleyville Dental, located at 3256 N. Ashland Ave., in Chicago. For appointments, call 773-975-6666 or visit



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