Dental hygiene is often regarded as an isolated factor from general health. The proper care and cleaning of teeth is usually pegged as an exclusively aesthetic concern. However, research suggests that many oral diseases can be linked to other health complications. In fact, “more than 90 percent of all systemic diseases have oral manifestations” (1). Moreover, gum diseases such as gingivitis and periodontitis are the root causes of popular health ailments. Gingivitis is characterized as the inflammation of the gums, and often leads to bleeding. If left untreated, gingivitis can advance into periodontitis where, “the inner layer of the gum and bone pull away from the teeth and form pockets,”which, “collect debris and can become infected.” Due to both bacteria, and our immune system’s response, the bone and connective tissue begins to break down, and tooth loss often occurs (2).
Furthermore, these diseases affect many of the predominant organs in our bodies. For instance, bacteria from the mouth due to periodontitis can clog vessels in the cardiovascular system, leading to heart disease and sometimes strokes. Likewise, gum disease and diabetes have a directly proportional relationship, where poor gum health can propagate effects of diabetes, and diabetes can increase the probability of contracting gum diseases. Bacteria from gum diseases can also cause respiratory issues, reduction of bone mass, and loss of teeth. In addition, women with advanced gum disease are more likely to give birth to underweight and pre-term babies (3).
It is essential to outline the causes of gum diseases in order to effectively prevent them. The main cause is, of course, plaque buildup and poor oral hygiene. Yet, secondary factors such as hormone imbalance, illness, medication, smoking, and genetics can also contribute to periodontal diseases (1). The best way to prevent gingivitis and periodontitis is via daily brushing and flossing and multiple professional cleanings per year.
However, despite the simple methods available to prevent gum disease, over fifty percent of Americans still struggle with gingivitis. What’s more, research shows that minorities are ten to twenty percent more likely to have symptoms of, and to contract, gum disease. The results of the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted in the USA, concluded that socioeconomic factors, such as income and education, are a major contributor to higher instances of gum disease amongst minorities. It was found that African Americans, Mexican Americans, and other ethnicities “had a higher prevalence of all negative oral health outcomes than White Americans” (4).
While sociological factors are not the only contributors to increased gum disease, targeting these inequalities can improve overall oral health in America. Income disparities make it more difficult for the lower-class, which is constituted by largely minority citizens, to obtain dental insurance. In order to properly address gum disease and its many effects, we must look beyond clinical strategies of prevention. Thus, providing affordable dental services and feasible insurance plans is a major preventative step. More importantly, proper education about oral health and dental hygiene must be provided in order for all citizens to be aware of, and to prevent, gum disease.