Quite recently, we had a few patients who came up to us and said “Is gum disease contagious by kissing?”
And “Is gingivits contagious through kissing?”
Our answer, “Yes and no”, because well, it really depends on quite a few things.
Let us explain more because this needs a detailed answer so we have to go back to the basics.
What actually is gum disease?
Gum disease can simply be characterized as a chronic pathological inflammatory condition of the gums. There are two forms that it could take.
It could either be gingival inflammation leading to gingivitis, or periodontal (special tissue that surrounds and supports teeth and maintains them in the maxillary and mandibular bones) inflammation leading to periodontitis.
Difference between gingivitis and periodontitis
Gingivitis is purely the inflammation of gums. However if left unchecked and untreated, it can in most cases, progress to periodontitis, involving the jaw bone. Gum disease can inflect the gums, connective tissue and bone, later causing other health problems within the body.
Signs of gum disease to be aware of
It starts out with highly irritated, bleeding, swollen and red gums, caused by a bacterial infection. This is the reversible stage and is therefore called as gingivitis. Some people may have bad breath and gums that are receding at an alarming rate.
Bleeding usually occurs when an individual brushes and/or flosses their teeth to harshly. The gum then develops a reddish coloration instead of the normal pinkish gum coloration.
If left untreated, this condition shall progress into an irreversible one, leading to loss of teeth. Progression to this more severe stage is called as periodontitis.
Is gum disease contagious by kissing or any other contact?
The simple answer to this is the same as we mentioned earlier, yes and no. This is disputable and depends on whom you are asking. Many causative factors that lead to gum disease are purely a person’s actions. Such as
- poor dental hygiene
- no flossing of teeth
- crooked teeth
- medications like antiseizure tablets and steroids
- a bad diet containing heavy amounts of sugar and carbohydrates
However, dentists who have researched this, say that gingivitis-causing bacteria (A. actinomycetemcomitans, Porphyromonas gingivalis, and Streptococcus mutans) can be, and are exchanged between romantic partners and from parents to off-springs by sharing drinking cups, utensils, saliva and other items.
At present, the American Dental Association (ADA) reviews gingivitis to be contagious, as stated in the Journal of the American Dental Association.
However, abovementioned factors usually need to be present for any person to develop gingivitis. Therefore, theoretically is gum disease contagious by kissing, yes, there is a high chance.
Catching gum disease from children and adults
By the time toddlers reach 3 years, they are about 26 times more likely to have gingivitis-inducing bacteria such as A. actinomycetemcomitans if their mothers have those strains too. Similarly, romantic partners tend to have similar bacterial populations as well.
The spread of these organisms to other people occurs through casual and intimate contacts. Some studies have indicated that salivary contact is common in people cohabiting a place. Such as family settings as this occurs through coughing, sneezing, and shared utensils and food.
Children with parents who have gum disease are at a somewhat higher risk of developing it as they age.
Just because you exchange bacteria with your loved ones doesn’t mean you will get periodontal disease. The incubation time of these bacteria is highly variable. It depends on both the colonization by bacteria that cause gingivitis and other factors that catalyze and increase the growth of them.
Consequently, it could take some years for initial gum disease to develop in certain individuals. Gingivitis is typically diagnosed through a dental checkup or tooth cleaning.
Scary statistics on gum disease
47% of adults that are aged 30 years and above have some sort of gum problem. The percentage increases with age too. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) research shows that 70% of people over 65 years and above, have gum disease.
ADHA, or The American Dental Hygiene Association (ADHA) showed that 80% of Americans have gum disease.
More than 40% of the population has some symptoms of gum disease, that is classed as a 3 or 4 periodontal disease. Which is like having an infection as large as the palm of your hand.
So is gingivitus contagious through kissing?
When you kiss someone you are exchanging saliva and bacteria with the other person. All of us have our own set of bacterial flora, which is generally safe in its own specific environment. When you kiss a person with poor oral hygiene, certain kinds of different bacteria in and around their gum will get transferred to you.
Kind of gross…
A lot of people consider knowing if their partner has had or currently has any Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) as very important, which is absolutely correct. But most forget that there are diseases other than STDs that can be transmitted by kissing.
Gingivitis and periodontitis don’t really occur the same way as STDs do. This is because gum disease itself isn’t just because of the bad or harmful bacteria. It is because of other factors too.
Factors that cause gum disease
Our mouths contain a mixture of both bad, opportunistic and good bacteria. These bad bacteria are the ones that cause cavities and gum disease when given a chance. Kissing someone with bleeding gums can cause the other person (who previously had a low concentration of bad bacteria) to catch gum disease and other dental problems.
Studies show that gum disease is caused by the inflammatory reaction of bacteria underneath the gums. So periodontal disease TECHNICALLY may NOT be contagious. On the other hand, these bad or harmful bacteria which are the cause of inflammation, spread through saliva. Which is why it is considered by some experts to be contagious.
All fears aside, gum disease is not contagious through casual contact. However, intimate contact such as kissing over a long period of time could increase the likelihood of transmitting bacteria and therefore the disease to their partner. Can you catch gum disease from sharing a toothbrush? The chances are certainly increased if you do it regularly.
A healthy immune system can take control of this infection, but if someone is constantly exposed to such flora, their immune system becomes stressed.
Existing pre-conditions that can lead to gum disease
Just like any other ailment to the human body, contracting gum disease can be exacerbated by other pre-existing conditions. This includes:
- a compromised immune system
- canker sores
- open sores or wounds in the mouth
An immune system that’s still developing (like that of a childs) can also be easily infected by that of adult bacteria.
Gum disease treatment is prevention
Good thing that you don’t need to swear off kissing for life, because simply exchanging bad bacteria won’t automatically give you gum disease. This condition is one of the most common we find that patients either ignore or their doctor doesn’t fully explain.
A lot of people do not show any symptoms even though they have had these harmful bacteria for years. As soon as the inflammation begins by the bacteria, symptoms of gum disease can be seen.
Here are a few things that can be done if you are dating/kissing someone with gum disease, so that you don’t get it:
- 1Maintaining good oral hygiene is the key to keeping gum disease away, even if you are kissing someone with gum disease. Follow proper dental regimes: brush twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste. Use a gentle technique, with the use of floss and mouthwash.
- 2Cut back fizzy/sugary beverages/food or avoid them altogether, and encourage your partner to do the same
- 3Eat a healthy, low-sugar diet to prevent gum disease and inhibit the growth of bad bacteria. A chewable probiotic that contains five Lactobacillus bacterial strains (shown to inhibit the growth of undesirable bacteria) is recommended.
- 4Try to stop smoking
- 5Reduce stress.
- 6Some individuals may require a change in their medications.
- 7Before kissing someone with gum disease, chew xylitol gum or suck on nanosilver lozenges which kills oral bacteria.
- 8If the bleeding gums and the disease persist, seek a dentist and have routine dental examinations, with scaling/tooth cleaning and plaque removal.
- 9Know your partner’s periodontal probing scores, which measure the depths of the gum disease pockets. Any probing of 4 or above indicates periodontal or gum disease.
So is gum disease contagious?
The bottom line: is gum disease contagious by kissing? The answer is yes, but only when a person has certain factors present about them.
Therefore we encourage you to really ask those difficult questions with your partner before you dive in, to kissing that is.