THURSDAY, Sept. 30, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Officials have underestimated the prevalence of gum disease in the United States by as much as 50 percent, new research suggests.
"This study shows that periodontal disease is a bigger problem than we all thought. It is a call to action for anyone who cares about his or her oral health," Dr. Samuel Low, professor of periodontology at the University of Florida College of Dentistry and president of the American Academy of Periodontology, said in a news release from the organization.
But the chronic inflammatory condition known as periodontal disease can do more than harm the gums and the structures that support the teeth. Without treatment, serious diseases that affect the entire body can develop, including diabetes, heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis, the authors of the news release explained.
"Given what we know about the relationship between gum disease and other diseases, taking care of your oral health isn't just about a pretty smile. It has bigger implications for overall health, and is therefore a more significant public health problem," Low added.
In the study by Paul Eke of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and colleagues, periodontists examined the mouths of more than 450 people older than 35 years of age. They found more cases of gum disease overall than previous research indicated people had, suggesting that the older studies had high levels of misclassification of periodontitis cases and thus have low validity for surveillance and research.
Low said the findings highlight the importance of gum health. "Not only should you take good care of your periodontal health with daily tooth brushing and flossing, you should expect to get a comprehensive periodontal evaluation every year," he said.
The study, by researchers at the CDC and the American Academy of Periodontology, was published in the Sept. 21 online edition of the Journal of Dental Research.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on gum disease.