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The former New York Yankees shortstop opens up about being diagnosed with early-stage gum disease and how people can take steps to prevent it. Image Provided by Orapharma
  • MLB player Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod) is sharing his journey with gum disease.
  • A-Rod teamed up with the Cover Your Bases campaign to talk about prevention and treatment.
  • Health experts share ways to identify gum disease and care for your gums.

Alex Rodriguez, known as A-Rod to baseball fans, is admired for his extraordinary skills on the baseball field.

During his 22 seasons playing Major League Baseball (MLB), he racked up endless accolades including being named an All-Star 14 times and receiving the Gold Glove Award twice and Silver Slugger Award 10 times.

Many consider him one of the game’s greatest all-around shortstops to set foot on the field.

But the World Series champion is putting baseball talk aside to speak out about something he’s never discussed before; gum disease.

After a recent routine visit with his dentist, Rodriguez learned he is among the 47% of Americans ages 30 years and older who live with the condition.

“I was honestly surprised. I take good care of my teeth — brushing and flossing daily…I think there’s this notion that we think that if you chew tobacco, eat sunflower seeds, or [chew] gum, which are all things synonymous with baseball players, [that must be the cause but] that’s not true, it can happen to anybody,” he told Healthline.

Gum disease is an inflammatory infection of the gums and bone that surround teeth. Gingivitis is the earliest stage of gum disease, and is characterized by red, inflamed, and bleeding gums.

“Gingivitis is reversible with dental prophylaxis treatment and with good at-home oral care,” Kristin Lenz Galbreath, DMD, owner of Union Grove Family Dental in Wisconsin, told Healthline.

As gum disease progresses, it can become periodontal disease, which is a chronic inflammatory infection that ultimately leads to destruction of the gum tissue and bone surrounding teeth.

“Untreated and advanced stages of periodontal disease result in teeth becoming loose and even tooth loss,” said Lenz Galbreath.

She noted that people often misunderstand the consequences of not treating gum disease.

“In most people, gum disease does not hurt, and if it does not hurt it is harder for the patient to believe there is a problem worth treating,” she said.

Treatment for periodontal disease is aimed at saving the remaining bone support for teeth and can be successful, said Dr. David Okano, DDS, spokesperson for the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP).

“It is also preventable with daily tooth brushing and flossing as well as routine visits to a dental health professional,” he said.

A general dentist or hygienist can identify the onset of gum disease and refer you to a periodontist for further evaluation and treatment, Okano noted.

“As dental specialists trained in the treatment of gum disease, periodontists have the expertise to provide appropriate treatment of gum disease,” he said.

Treatment of gum disease varies depending on how far the condition has progressed. Treatment can be surgical, non-surgical, or if the tooth cannot be saved, treatment may include dental implants, said Okano.

“Once gum disease is successfully treated, it is very important to return for professional dental cleanings as often as every three months — compared to the usual six-month interval,” he said.

The AAP states that risks for developing gum disease include:

  • Age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 70% of Americans 65 and older have some form of gum disease.
  • Smoking and tobacco use. Research notes that tobacco use may be one of the most significant risk factors for developing periodontal disease, and contributes to its progression.
  • Genetics. Despite good dental hygiene, some people may be more prone to gum disease.
  • Stress. The body may have a hard time fighting off infections, including periodontal disease, when it’s under stress.
  • Grinding teeth. When pressure is put on tissues of the teeth due to grinding or clenching, it can destroy periodontal tissues.
  • Medications. Some medications like oral contraceptives, anti-depressants, and those given for the heart can affect oral health.
  • Poor nutrition. When essential nutrients are missing from a person’s diet, it can affect the body’s immune system and ability to fight off infection, which can contribute to gum disease.

Additionally, untreated gum disease can also increase the risk of developing other health complications.

For instance, research has found that periodontitis acts within the same chronic inflammatory model that occurs in cardiovascular disease and other conditions, such as diabetes.

In other words, people with diabetes are more prone to infections and more likely to suffer from periodontitis than people without the disease. Additionally, researchers believe that periodontitis can make cardiac disorders worse.

“The mouth is the gateway to the rest of the body. The presence of high levels of oral bacteria found throughout the rest of the body has been linked to a greater risk of systemic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s,” said Lenz Galbreath. “[If] we know that our oral health affects our systemic health, there is no greater reason to see your dentist regularly and treat oral conditions early.”

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“[Gum disease] is something to consider, and sooner rather than later,” said Rodriguez. Image Provided by Orapharma

Learning about the connection between gum disease and heart health and gum disease and diabetes inspired Rodriguez to spread awareness.

He teamed up with OraPharma and its Cover Your Bases campaign, which includes educational content about gum disease and encourages people to talk to their dentist about comprehensive treatment options.

“[I’m] using my platform to let all my followers and fans and viewers and non-followers [know] that [gum disease] is something to consider, and sooner rather than later,” said Rodriguez.

While it may not be trendy or exciting to talk about gum disease, he said it’s genuine.

“I have it so it’s very genuine…We wish we could always be talking about a campaign [that focuses on] you’re looking great and you have shredded abs but that’s not the case with me and this is something that’s real,” Rodriquez said. “I went to the dentist and just like any American out there — any size, any shape, any gender, this can happen to any single one of us and hopefully I can use my platform for the greater good.”

Learning that the Latino community and people of color are disproportionately affected by gum disease also motivated him to speak out.

According to the CDC, severe gum disease is most common among adults aged 65 or older, people who smoke, and Mexican American and non-Hispanic Black adults.

“I’m happy that I detected it early. I wish I would have known even earlier [now that I know] it’s prevalent in my community, Latinos, and Black and brown skin [too],” said Rodriguez. “Anything with [the word] disease on it you’re like ‘oh boy this is scary;’ the good news is it’s treatable and your dentist will have a lot more information.”