Describing Gum Disease in America

Periodontal disease rates differed by race and ethnicity as well as other characteristics

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in older adults, and tooth loss can affect a person's quality of life. It seems that some groups in the US may be experiencing gum disease more than others.

In a recent report, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) set out to discuss the differences in characteristics of people with gum disease.

These researchers found the highest rates of gum disease among seniors. Gum disease was also commonly seen in non-Hispanic blacks, smokers, adults with a low income level and adults without a high-school degree.

"Visit your dentist for regular check-ups."

This study on the prevalence of gum disease was conducted by Gina Thornton-Evans, DDS, from the Division of Oral Health at the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, and colleagues.

Mark Bornfeld, DDS, who has run a private dental practice in Brooklyn, NY since 1977 and is editor at the Queens County Academy of General Dentistry, told dailyRx News, “Periodontal (gum) disease is a common condition, and a result of the body’s inflammatory response to oral bacteria. It can lead to tooth loss, oral discomfort, bad breath, and even more widespread effects on overall health.” Dr. Bornfeld was not involved in this CDC report.

Dr. Thornton-Evans and colleagues gathered data between 2009 and 2010 using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which contained the results of full mouth exams to screen for gum disease. Their study included 3,743 participants, age 30 and older, who were representative of the adult US population. 

These researchers explored whether the presence of gum disease was influenced by any of the following factors: age, race/ethnicity, gender, poverty status, level of education and smoking habits.

The researchers estimated that 47 percent of the US adult population had gum disease.

Gum disease was more common among the older population. A total of 70 percent of the participants who were older than 65 years old had gum disease.

When these researchers looked at the prevalence of gum disease among three different races (non-Hispanic black, non-Hispanic white, Mexican American), they found that 59 percent of non-Hispanic blacks and 60 percent of Mexican Americans had gum disease. In comparison, only 43 percent of non-Hispanic whites had gum disease.

In each of these groups, the risk of gum disease increased with age. In addition, more men (56 percent) had gum disease than women (38 percent).

Level of poverty and education also influenced the presence of gum disease among adults. The study showed that participants who had low incomes or who didn’t finish high school had the highest rates of gum disease (around 66 percent).

The link between poverty and education levels and the risk of gum disease was not evident among non-Hispanic blacks.

Smoking was a major risk factor for gum disease. A total of 64 percent of current smokers had gum disease, compared to 40 percent of non-smokers. This risk was particularly higher among non-Hispanic blacks — 79 percent of non-hispanic blacks who smoked had gum disease.

The researchers admitted that the percentages of people who had gum disease may be greater than what they reported in this study. The reason is that they didn’t include patients with gingivitis and they didn’t examine third molars.

Nevertheless, these researchers concluded that the prevalence of gum disease was affected by age, race, education, income and smoking habits.

These researchers highlighted the importance of implementing programs to prevent and treat gum disease across all ages and racial groups.

They estimated that in 2030, one in five adults will have gum disease. These researchers also suggested that dental care should be part of health services, since about 70 percent of seniors (over 65 years old) don’t have dental coverage.

In his comments to dailyRx News, Dr. Bornfeld said, “Some of the things that contribute to the development and severity of periodontal disease, such as genetics, are beyond control, but there are measures that can help to tip the balance toward a healthier mouth.”

“These [measures] include meticulous attention to oral hygiene and regular cleanings by your dentist. If you smoke, quitting will significantly improve the health of your gums. If you have diabetes, strict glucose control will benefit your periodontal condition,” Dr. Bornfeld said.

“And because therapy for periodontal disease is more effective at stopping its progression than it is in reversing its damage, early and aggressive treatment by a periodontist, if deemed appropriate, will provide the most effective benefit,” he concluded.

This study was published on November 22 in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The authors had no disclosures to make.

Review Date: 
November 26, 2013
Last Updated:
December 30, 2013