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Periodontal disease isn't always your parents' disease

January 04, 2001

CHICAGO - When you are 26, tooth loss is not likely to be a major concern in your life. However, based on results of a new study published in the Journal of Periodontology, about one in seven 26-year-olds already has well-established periodontal disease, a major cause of tooth loss in adults.

Researchers in New Zealand have been regularly examining about 1,000 children since their births in 1972 and 1973 to track various aspects of their health. Dental exams on 914 of the study members at age 26 revealed that attachment loss, pockets and bleeding gums - all signs of periodontal disease - were not all that uncommon. And, most alarmingly, nearly 75 percent had receding gums in at least one site.

Most studies on the prevalence of periodontal disease have focused on middle-aged or older people. Because it tends to be more prevalent and advanced in these age groups, periodontal disease is often overlooked as a disease that affects young people.

By looking at periodontal health status in a younger age group, researchers hope to highlight to dental professionals the importance of screening for periodontal disease among all age groups so that it can be caught early, and appropriate interventions can be used before the disease progresses. "The take-home message for people in their 20s is really to take scrupulous care of your oral hygiene and visit a dental professional regularly for periodontal screenings, especially if your dentists tells you that you have signs of early gum disease," said Angela Pack, B.D.S., Ph.D., a dental researchers at the School of Dentistry at the University of Otago in New Zealand and one of the authors of the study.

Michael McGuire, D.D.S., president of the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP), agrees. "Because periodontal disease is often a silent disease, it's important that people of all ages ask their dentist to include a periodontal exam as part of their twice yearly dental visits. Gingivitis, the early stage of periodontal disease, is reversible. However, I often see people in my practice who ignored the health of their gums in their 20s and 30s, and now they have chronic periodontal disease that will require ongoing treatment."
A referral to a periodontist and free brochures including one titled Spread the Word: Periodontal Care Is for Everyone are available by calling 800-FLOSS-EM or visiting the AAP's Web site at

The American Academy of Periodontology is a 7,500-member association of dental professionals specializing in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases affecting the gums and supporting structures of the teeth and in the placement and maintenance of dental implants. Periodontics is one of nine dental specialties recognized by the American Dental Association.

Editor's Note: A copy of the study, The Prevalence and Intraoral Distribution of Periodontal Attachment Loss in a Birth Cohort of 26-Year-Olds, is available by contacting Amanda Widtfeldt at 312/573-3243 or

American Academy of Periodontology

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