If you suspect you may have gum disease, there’s a good chance you’re right. According to the CDC, one out of every two adults in the US has some form of periodontal disease. Gum disease, also called periodontal disease, ranges from mild to severe, and can have serious impacts on your overall health.
Gum disease starts with the bacteria in our mouths. These bacteria, along with mucus and other particles, constantly form a sticky, colorless “plaque” on teeth. Brushing and flossing help get rid of plaque. Plaque that is not removed can harden and form “tartar” that brushing doesn’t clean. Only a professional cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist can remove tartar.
The longer tartar stays on the teeth, the more damage it does. When the bacteria causes inflammation of the gums, gingivitis has begun. In gingivitis, the gums become red, swollen and can bleed easily. Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that can usually be reversed with daily brushing and flossing, and regular cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist. This form of gum disease does not include any loss of bone and tissue that hold teeth in place.
The bad news is, when gingivitis is not treated, it can advance to “periodontitis” (which means “inflammation around the tooth”). In periodontitis, gums pull away from the teeth and form spaces (called “pockets”) that become infected. The body’s immune system fights the bacteria as the plaque spreads and grows below the gum line. Bacterial toxins and the body’s natural response to infection start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place. If not treated, the bones, gums, and tissue that support the teeth are destroyed. The teeth may eventually become loose and have to be removed.
How do I know if I have gum disease?
These can be signs of periodontal disease:
- Bad breath that won’t go away
- Red or swollen gums
- Tender or bleeding gums
- Mouth sores
- Painful chewing
- Your gums appear shiny and irritated
- Loose teeth
- Sensitive teeth
- Receding gums or longer appearing teeth
So now what?
If you have any of the symptoms listed above, they should be checked by your dentist. Your dentist and/or hygienist will ask you questions about your medical history to identify underlying conditions or risk factors (such as smoking, diabetes, other illnesses and treatments, etc.) that may contribute to gum disease. They will examine your gums for inflammation, and use a tiny ruler called a “probe”, to measure any gaps you may have between your teeth and gum line. If these gaps, called “pockets”, are larger than normal, then you have gingivitis.
The first step in addressing gum disease is a deep cleaning of your teeth and gums. They will remove the plaque through a deep-cleaning method called scaling and root planing. Scaling means scraping off the tartar from above and below the gum line. Root planing gets rid of rough spots on the tooth root where the germs gather, and helps remove bacteria that contribute to the disease. Depending on the severity of your gum disease, you may be referred to a periodontist (a periodontal disease specialist) for this care.
So brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day, eat a balanced diet, avoid smoking, and visit your dentist regularly to avoid developing gingivitis. Call today for an appointment!