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Periodontal disease can develop earlier than previously believed

Researchers have reason to believe that periodontal disease develops much earlier in life than previously thought.

What’s more, the condition has more health implications than originally thought, especially when people in their 20s still have their wisdom teeth.

Sixty percent of study subjects at the University of North Carolina and University of Kentucky had signs of infection around their wisdom teeth, also called the third molars, when examined. One in four had periodontal disease two years later.

Periodontal disease is a serious health concern because bacterial infection in the mouth can often cause other health complications.

"Part of the reason we were asked to spearhead these trials was that research at UNC and elsewhere showed that the inflammation in the mouth that periodontal infections cause promoted inflammation in other parts of the body," said Dr. Raymond White, UNC professor of oral surgery.

Finding that people in their 20s are susceptible to periodontal disease was surprising to researchers.

"Most people assumed that you don't get periodontal problems until you are age 35 or 40," said Dr. White. "We found it's more prevalent than anyone believed at a much younger age than anyone had thought."

Dr. White’s research is one part of a study into what happens over time in young adults who have kept their wisdom teeth and those who had them taken out. The health concern with third molars is infection, added Dr. Robert Glickman, a New York University College of Dentistry professor who was not part of Dr. White's research team.

"However, because of their unique location in the jaws, infections from third molars spread down the neck in the lower jaw and to the orbits (eyes), sinuses and brain in the upper jaw," Dr. Glickman told the Scripps Howard News Service.

Dr. White says it's a good idea for all patients to have wisdom teeth evaluated by age 25. Many people develop some decay or infection in at least one wisdom tooth in their lifetime, said Dr. White, but 25 percent don't.

Please contact the ADA if you have questions about this article.

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

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