If you have been told you have periodontal disease, or gum disease, you’re not alone. Many adults in the U.S. currently have some form of the disease. Periodontal diseases range from simple gum inflammation to serious disease that results in major damage to the soft tissue and bone that support the teeth. In the worst cases, teeth are lost. Whether your gum disease will stop, slow, or become more severe largely depends on how well you care for your teeth and gums every day. However, the bacteria that cause the inflammatory reaction can be spread through saliva. This means that if one of your family members has periodontal disease, it’s a good idea to avoid contact with their saliva. We take a look at periodontal disease and what makes is contagious.
What is Periodontal Disease?
“Peri” means around, and “odontal” refers to teeth. Periodontal diseases are infections of the structures around the teeth. These include the gums, the cementum that covers the root, the periodontal ligament and the alveolar bone. Periodontal disease is caused by bacteria in dental plaque. Plaque is the sticky substance that forms on your teeth soon after you have brushed. In an effort to get rid of the bacteria, the cells of your immune system release substances that inflame and damage the gums, periodontal ligament or alveolar bone. This leads to swollen, bleeding gums, a sign of gingivitis (the earliest stage of periodontal disease). Damage from periodontal disease also can cause teeth to become loose. This is a sign of severe periodontitis (the advanced stage of disease).
How is it spread?
Periodontitis is a gum infection, and the bacteria that cause the gums to become infected travels in saliva. Researchers have used DNA coding techniques to track the path of infection from one person to another. In other words, kissing and close contact play a role in the transmission of the infection, so if you’re married to a spouse with periodontal disease, then your chances of having gum problems are slightly increased. Other studies have indicated that saliva contact is common in family settings through coughing, sneezing, and shared utensils and food. Children with parents who have periodontal disease are at somewhat higher risk for developing the disease. At the same time, just because you exchange bacteria with your loved ones doesn’t guarantee you will get periodontal disease.
It is important to note that the scientific evidence supporting the spread of periodontal disease is ongoing. There is also evidence that oral bacteria is only transmittable after a certain age, when hormones are such that bacteria can grow and multiply in your mouth, creating an environment suited to host the disease. This is usually by puberty, meaning it’s okay to share with younger kids, but it’s important to remember that habits we develop in childhood carry over through teenage and adulthood.
How can I stop the spread of periodontal disease?
Knowing that gum disease is communicable, how do you stop it spreading through the family?
- Good dental health and diligent oral hygiene. Daily care is paramount, and not just of your own mouth, of your little ones as well (let’s face it: kids can’t be trusted to brush their own teeth adequately for at least the first 7 years of life.) And, of course, you should make sure to be visiting the dentist twice a year. This is a great way to reinforce the importance of oral health since all members of the family will participate together. If you have any concerns about gum disease for yourself or your little ones, ask your dentist for a gum probing, this will assess the health of your teeth and gums.
- Gum Disease is Treatable in Every Patient. Now that you understand that gum disease is contagious and that there can be serious ramifications of sharing, it’s also important to realize that gum disease is very treatable. Once gum disease has been confirmed by your dentist, the next and most critical step is treatment.
Do you have questions about Periodontal disease? Call Hartnett Dental to schedule an appointment with your dentist today! (716) 649-6633.