Questions and Answers
about Gum Disease Transmission
1. Why is there a concern about transmitting gum disease bacteria?
Studies have shown that bacteria that are associated with more aggressive gum disease can be transmitted between parents and children (the "vertical route") and between spouses or spousal equivalents (the "horizontal route").

2. What should my concern be regarding transmitting gum disease bacteria to my children?
The transmission of bacteria to children does occur through the parents' saliva and can get into gum disease "pockets". If the parent has aggressive gum disease, the bacteria are important, as are also any "risk factors" which predispose toward gum disease. Some strains of periodontal bacteria may be aggressive, but if the patient has a good resistance to gum disease, there is less of a chance of gum disease developing. If both parents have gum disease, then they should be more concerned about resistance as a "risk factor" in the oral health of their children.

3. Will transmitting bacteria between adults mean that kissing becomes a "risk factor" in the development of gum disease?
When kissing occurs, this is the primary means by which saliva, and its bacterial contents would be transmitted. However, "risk factors" relate more toward issues which involve a person's resistance to gum disease. How frequently a person is exposed to infectious saliva, and their susceptibility to gum disease affect the posssibility of mouth-to-mouth transmission of periodontal bacteria. If a person has less aggressive gum disease, there may be a concern as to whether the more aggressive bacteria from one person will cause the less aggressive problem to become more aggressive.

4. What is aggressive gum disease?
Aggressive gum disease is clinically a subjective term that describes the severity and rate of destruction of the gum disease. All gum disease does not progress at the same rate of destruction. When we are determining the aggressiveness of a patient's gum disease, the age of the patient is important, in addition to:
A. The depth of gum "pockets"
B. The amount of bone loss
C. Tooth mobility or looseness of the teeth
D. Family history of gum disease
E. Risk factors

5. What are "risk factors"?
Risk factors are those considerations which alter or affect a patient's resistance to disease. With regard to gum disease, some lack of resistance is genetically transmitted, while some risk factors may be acquired. An example of a genetically-transmitted risk factor is that, in some patients, there are gum disease problems where white blood cells (your first line of defense against infections) don't respond as rapidly as normal to gum disease bacteria.

An example of an acquired "risk factor" is cigarette smoking. Cigarette smokers have a greater tendency towards gum disease than people who don't smoke. There are studies emerging that associate stress with lowered gum disease resistance. The risk factors that affect an adult or child are all considerations regarding the impact of transmitting periodontal bacteria from person to person.

6. My parents lost their teeth. Does that mean that I and my children will lose our teeth?
No! Not all genetically-transmitted resistance problems are passed to every child. Additionally, some risk factors can be controlled, as long as you monitor the gum health of all of the members of your family. Periodontal therapies have also expanded to provide more diverse and predictable therapies than were available to preceding generations.

7. Should the gum disease bacterial transmission potential affect how I act with my children?
You should not change how you respond and interact with your children. You should continue to be a warm, loving, hugging and kissing parent. Society and its children need more hugging and kissing parents. However, if either or both parents have significant gum disease, it is important to:
A. Have your gum disease treated and eliminated.
B. Have your children monitored for gum disease and gum disease resistance.

** Note: It is not likely that young children will have gum disease, but as they grow to be adults, they should be made aware of the need for gum disease monitoring with a periodontist.

8. If my spouse and I both have gum disease, and only one of us gets periodontal therapy to eliminate the disease, does the untreated spouse represent a "disease threat" to the other?
Yes, there is reason for concern with this issue, if the treated spouse is healthy. Even though aggressive bacteria had been present in their mouth, new bacterial infection from their spouse's saliva is a possibility.

9. If gum disease is associated with heart disease and premature births and low birth weights, what is the significance of untreated gum disease?
As emerging research is showing, there appear to be significant relationships between periodontitis and our general health. Even when we account for known heart disease risk factors (family history, cholesterol, weight, stress, etc.) there still appears to be a gum disease-heart disease association. Mothers-to-be who have gum disease also appear to be at risk for low birth weight or premature births, even when other risk factors are taken into consideration.

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