Understanding and Treating Gum Disease
Periodontal disease, more commonly known as gum disease, is a serious infection in your gums that is mainly caused by a severe build-up of bacteria and plaque on your teeth. Gum disease can lead to serious side effects and affect the health of your mouth, the foundation of your teeth, and impact your overall wellness.
What Is Gum Disease?
Gum disease typically occurs in stages. Gingivitis is the early form of gum disease but, when not recognized as a problem and not treated soon enough, it can develop into full-blown periodontal disease. This bacterial growth can result in tooth loss and gaps in your smile as your teeth move and the disease eats away at the jawbones.
Everyone is susceptible to gum disease, but when plaque isn’t cleaned off of your teeth with regular brushing, flossing, and dental cleanings, you are at a greater risk for developing periodontal disease. The build-up on your teeth will turn to tarter – a hard substance that can only be removed by a dentist. Left in your mouth to fester, plaque and tarter can cause inflammation of your gums which can develop into infections below the gum line. This causes the gums to separate from your teeth, creating pockets that become infected and fill with pus. As the pockets deepen and the disease becomes more pronounced, bone and gum tissue are destroyed and teeth begin to loosen in their sockets.
Periodontal disease is stealthy, and does not always exhibit obvious signs of its presence at the outset. However, regular dental checkups give your dentist the opportunity to detect periodontal disease at even its earliest stages.
Causes of Gum Disease
Gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults. Plaque is the primary cause of gum disease, however, there are other factors that can contribute to the possibility of developing periodontal disease:
- Genetics: Some people are simply at a higher risk for gum disease because of their genes. If you have a family history of bad gums, your chances of gum disease are also high.
- Illness: Some illnesses like cancer or HIV can interfere with your immune system which could, in turn, affect the health of your gums. Diabetics are also at a higher risk of developing infections including periodontal disease.
- Medication: Certain medications are known to cause dry mouth. When you do not produce enough saliva to keep your teeth and gums moist and protected, there is a ripe breeding ground for bacteria to grow and gum disease to take root.
- Hormones: From the time puberty hits, women are at the mercy of their hormones, and so are their gums. Gums become more sensitive during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause, which increases the possibility of developing gingivitis.
- Bad Habits: Whether it’s smoking, grinding your teeth, or halfhearted dental hygiene, bad habits can definitely contribute to gum disease and make it difficult for the gum disease to heal.
Because gum disease can be painless at first and not necessarily exhibit many obvious signs of its presence, there are still some symptoms that indicate there is a problem with your oral health. Whether or not they are caused by gum disease is for your dentist to determine, but make an appointment if you’re experiencing any of the following:
- Bleeding gums, especially during or after brushing your teeth
- Red gums
- Swollen or tender gums
- Receding gums
- Bad breath
- Loose teeth
- Spaces between your teeth
- Bite discomfort
- An uncomfortable or “itchy” feeling in your gums
Only your dentist can truly recognize gum disease and determine what stage it is in and what treatment is necessary. During your dental exam, your dentist will look at the color of your gums, whether or not they are bleeding, swollen, firm, or have pockets between the gum and tooth. Tartar build-up will be taken into account, as well as tooth sensitivity and movement of teeth. X-rays will be taken to see if there is any build-up of bacteria below the gum line and if any bone loss is in progress. If all of this sounds extreme, it is – gum disease is a serious illness that needs to be treated as soon as possible to save your oral health and overall health.
Treatment for Gum Disease: Scaling and Root Planing
Scaling and root planing are the most common forms of treatment for gum disease. Even with good daily oral hygiene, some plaque still remains in your mouth and, over time, it can harden and become tartar (also known as calculus). If left in your mouth, this build-up will cause periodontal disease. Tartar can only be removed by a dentist or dental hygienist with a process called scaling where either ultrasound vibrations or a manual tool called a scaler are used to remove tartar from the portion of your tooth that is below the gum line.
Since plaque and calculus love to grab onto rough surfaces of the tooth, once the built-up tartar has been removed from your tooth, the rough or irregular surfaces are smoothed away with a process called root planing, which helps reverse any early signs of gum disease, promote reattachment of healthy gums to the teeth and, most of all, stop the progression of any existing periodontal disease.
The scaling and root planing begin the healing process. From there, your dentist will recommend the best course of continued treatment, which can often be more frequent periodontal cleanings to monitor and maintain the health of your gums and teeth. If healing has not commenced, further special treatment will be needed.
Gum disease does not go away on its own; it will only get worse the longer you go without treatment. Chewing will become painful, and you will be unable to use some teeth entirely because of pain or looseness. This inability to chew thoroughly will also mean that you’re likely to avoid eating certain foods that are a threat to your unstable and shifting teeth but essential to a healthy diet. The inflammation that is associated with gum disease has also been associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, and swallowing bacteria from an unhealthy mouth can lead to stomach pain and digestion problems.
Left untreated, periodontal disease will only continue to progress, your teeth will be lost, and surgery may be necessary to stop the disease. Don’t wait for periodontal disease to get worse before you see a dentist. If you have any concerns about the state of your oral health, or suspect that you need periodontal treatment, make an appointment with Dr. Shaista Najmi in Jacksonville, Florida.