Gum disease afflicts half of adults 30 and older

It’s a statistic that has put frowns on the faces of dental professionals across the country: Nearly 65 million people in the United States are suffering from gum disease. That translates to about half of all adults 30 and older, according to the American Academy of Periodontology.

And those sufferers also are putting their lives in danger.

“The potential repercussions of periodontal disease upon an individual’s oral and physical well-being is a very serious — but often overlooked — health issue,” Dr. Lee Sheldon, a Melbourne periodontist and Florida Today columnist, said in an email. “With more Americans suffering from this disease than diabetes, the AAP created ‘Love the Gums You’re With’ to educate the public on the importance of prevention and early diagnosis of periodontal disease.”

Periodontal disease is caused by bacteria in the mouth that form plaque below the gum line, Sheldon said. There are more than 500 bacterial species that can be found in plaque, and brushing alone does not remove the bacteria below the gum line.

The disease typically does not cause pain until it’s in an advanced stage. At that point, Sheldon said, much of the damage has been done.

The disease causes receding gums, bone damage in the mouth and loss of teeth. It also can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and even cancer, Sheldon said.

The AAP prevention program encourages people to brush their teeth twice a day, floss at least once a day and get a comprehensive exam from a dental professional once a year.

To learn more about the disease, people can take a brief quiz at perio.org to evaluate their gum health, learn the signs and symptoms, and receive tips on how to properly care for their gums.