Periodontal disease, or gum disease, is an infection of the surrounding tissues of the teeth that causes bone loss and loss of support of the teeth. Left unchecked, this disease causes the teeth to get loose and even fall out, and it can also cause an abscess or infection with pus and swelling. Research has shown that periodontal disease can run in families.
People with gum disease have a high prevalence of certain organisms in their mouth and in the pockets around their teeth. These organisms are not found in significant numbers in a healthy mouth. A baby is born with a relatively clean mouth, and as he or she starts coming in contact with immediate family members, organisms are passed from the family to the child by kissing, sharing food, etc. If these family members have gum disease, they may pass on the organisms that cause this disease. The child can also contract these organisms from babysitters and other relatives he or she is in close contact with. There is also a possibility that a spouse with gum disease can pass the organisms on to his or her partner over the years.
Genetics also play a role in this transmission. Not all people are susceptible to these organisms. Transmission from adult to child and adult to adult does not happen 100% of the time; it depends on the host susceptibility as well. Smoking plays a strong role in gum disease. Smokers have a 5 times greater risk of losing their teeth to gum disease than the rest of the population. Nicotine disarms the neutrophils, which are the body’s defense cells. These weakened neutrophils are seen up to nine months after a person stops smoking!
The good news is, even with heredity, periodontal disease can be slowed or even halted. With regular removal of the biofilm these organisms produce (professional cleaning) the damage is minimized, and the life of your teeth can be extended by many years. The bottom line is, to treat the disease, we have to remove the causative agents. So the fact that gum disease runs in your family isn’t really an excuse to let your teeth go. It can be treated.
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