Why Periodontal Disease is More Likely to Develop as You Age

Periodontal (gum) disease affects nearly 75% of adults in America, and we seem to be more prone to develop the disease as we grow older. The increased risk may come as no surprise to some people, considering that the older we get, the more susceptible we become to all sorts of health issues and disorders. However, like many systemic health problems, periodontal disease is an inflammatory issue. Understanding its risk factors can help researchers develop innovative treatments that help lower the rate of gum disease, as well as offer a glimpse of understanding into similar systemic diseases. With this goal in mind, researchers from Queen Mary, University of London, decided to examine the relation between old age and gum troubles. Encinitas periodontist Dr. Ann Kania explains their findings.

The First Step—Understanding Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease begins with a bacterial infection of your gums. Bacteria in your mouth is not an uncommon thing; in fact, at this moment, your mouth is playing host to about 600 different kinds of bacteria. Luckily, they’re not all destructive. Most help maintain the ecological balance inside your mouth. The harmful ones (pathogens), are essential in disease progression. Because they are harmful, some of these bacteria can trigger inflammation, which is your body’s natural defense mechanism against unwanted biological invaders. The inflammatory response should be protective, but in the case of periodontal disease it becomes destructive.  If left untreated, this inflammation progresses, which can lead to bleeding and cause your gums to pull away from your teeth as their connective tissue are slowly destroyed. The infection can then spread further down into your gums, destroying gum tissue and deteriorating your supporting jawbone structure. While infection is the beginning of periodontal disease, inflammation is the driving force behind its destructive power.

Decreased Protection Equals Increased Risk

The researchers at Queen Mary studied gum disease by comparing young and old mice. Their experiments led to the discovery that gum disease development in the older mice was accompanied by a relative drop in levels of the chemical Del-1—a protein that serves to keep your immune system in check by preventing excessive white blood cells from attacking tissues in your mouth, such as gum tissue. Treating the mice with Del-1 decreased the amount of white blood cells and reduced gum disease and subsequent bone loss. Professor Mike Curtis, who led the microbiological studies during the research, says their findings may be the first step in developing an effective gum disease treatment. If you are in need of periodontal treatment, then contact Dr. Kania at our Encinitas periodontal care office by calling (706) 642-0711. We serve patients from Encinitas, San Diego, Rancho Santa Fe, Del Mar, La Costa, and the neighboring communities.