"The fear of losing your teeth is enough to get most people to respond to moderate treatment," says Fred Garst, a patient at Saunders & Saunders Periodontics.
The ultimate nightmare for those with chronic gum disease used to be the loss of their teeth. Now it's the fear of death.
"Low-grade infections in the body that's not diagnosed can contribute significantly to the risk of heart disease, the nation's number one killer," says Vick Saunders, DDS.
A study released this month says inflammations like gum disease trigger more heart attacks than high cholesterol. Often these infections are not noticeable and go untreated.
"It can go undiagnosed. There are symptoms like bleeding, tenderness and swelling in the gum tissue, but not always," says Saunders.
Saunders also says periodontal problems are common for everyone. They can spread throughout the body, causing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
Each year, 45,000 American babies are born premature because of bacteria in the mother's gums. And there's a significant link between oral diseases and diabetes.
"We knew that diabetes made them at a higher risk for periodontal disease, but it's now been discovered that uncontrollable periodontal disease makes it more difficult to control diabetes," says Saunders.
Diabetics like Fred Garst are more susceptible to gum infections. And those infections can cause dangerously high blood sugar levels. But if diagnosed early, periodontal disease can be easily treated.
"Now my teeth are fine, my gums are fine and not bleeding and my diabetes is under control," says Garst.
Dr. Saunders says those with periodontal problems should get four check-ups a year. And he suggests everyone should be screened for gum diseases, since there are often no symptoms but serious consequences.