The Signs & Treatment of Gum Disease: What You Need to Know
The health of your gums affects your entire body. For example, did you know that unhealthy gums are actually associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s disease? This is clearly a serious issue, made more serious by the fact that nearly half of Americans aged 30 and over have periodontal disease.
It’s key to stay educated and empowered about your oral health so that you can practice good preventative care — and know when you need to seek professional help. Let’s look into the periodontal disease: causes, signs, treatments, and what you need to know to fight back against the disease.
What is Gingivitis?
Generally considered a precursor to periodontal disease, gingivitis is a milder form of periodontal disease. Just because it’s mild, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously. Left untreated, the plaque and tartar associated with gingivitis can lead to more serious problems.
The role of plaque and tartar
In gingivitis, the “gingiva,” or the part of your gums that meet your teeth, become swollen and inflamed due to a build-up of plaque along your gumline. What exactly is plaque? It’s an invisible film on the surface of your teeth that forms when bacteria in your mouth interacts with starches and sugars that you eat. One of the reasons we brush our teeth is to prevent plaque from building up.
However, when plaque isn’t removed, it can then turn into tartar beneath your gumline. Tartar is a hard, calcified substance that stores bacteria near your gumline. Because it’s so hard, it can’t be removed without a dentist. Eventually, the bacteria that collects in tartar begins to irritate your gums, leading to the inflammation associated with gingivitis.
Unlike some diseases that give you warning signs through pain, gingivitis is often painless and so may go unnoticed and progress into a more serious form of gum disease called periodontal disease.
What is Periodontal Disease?
As tartar builds up and gums become increasingly more inflamed from the bacteria, gingivitis can progress into periodontitis, also called periodontal disease or “gum disease.” After time, untreated tartar causes your gums to pull away from your teeth and create pockets into which more bacteria can grow. As the bacteria proliferates, it can cause even more damage. At its worst, periodontal disease can:
- Cause your connective tissue to break down.
- Lead to tooth loss and removal.
- Destroy your bones and gums.
At this point, periodontal disease isn’t only putting you at risk for losing your teeth and damaging your jaw bone. Because of its links to overall health, periodontal disease may also put you at a greater risk for heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and other health issues.
Once gingivitis has progressed into periodontal disease, it’s absolutely vital to see a skilled oral health professional to get treatment.
Warning Signs of Gum Disease
Although the early stages of gum disease (gingivitis) are generally painless, there are definitely some major signs that you or a loved one is suffering from this preventable oral disease:
- Swelling & discoloration. Even in the earliest stages of gum disease (gingivitis), you will probably be able to detect inflamed gums as a result of your body battling against the bacteria. In the more advanced stages of gum disease, you may even notice that your gums are beginning to turn purple or red near your teeth.
- Bleeding. Your gums may bleed when you brush or floss. Keep in mind that if you’ve only recently begun to floss, your gums may bleed for about a week. As long as it goes away, it may not indicate periodontal disease.
- Bad Breath & Taste. If you’re noticing that your bad breath isn’t going away, or that you have a perpetually bad taste in your mouth, this could be a sign of gum disease.
- Receding gums. As the bacteria begins to settle in under your gumline, you may notice that your gums start to recede from your teeth.
Risk Factors for Gum Disease
Some individuals may be more susceptible to gum disease than others. Pay special attention to your oral health if any of the following is true:
- Lifestyle. If you smoke or have excess stress, you may be more at risk.
- Disease. Those with diabetes or immuno-suppressed systems (like AIDS) are more susceptible. In addition, taking certain medications that cause dry mouth can be a risk factor.
- Hormones. Pregnant women and those on oral contraceptives are more susceptible to gum disease.
- Oral hygiene. If you don’t practice good oral hygiene, or you have naturally crooked teeth, you may be more prone to periodontal disease.
Treatment of Gum Disease
If you suspect you have gum disease, it’s important to get to a professional immediately. They’ll be able to diagnose you through examining your gums and teeth. In addition, they might use a device called a probe to measure how deep the pockets around your teeth are. From there, they’ll be able to recommend the appropriate plan of action for you. Let’s take a look at some of the common treatments for gum disease:
- Tooth Cleaning. For mild cases of gingivitis, your periodontist might simply do a tooth cleaning that removes the build-up of tartar on your teeth.
- Scaling and root planing. This is a type of deep cleaning. Scaling refers to scraping off the tartar that’s accumulated both above and below the gum line. In root planing, your dental professional removes areas on your tooth’s roots where bacteria have a tendency to gather.
- Pocket Reduction Surgery. In this type of surgery, your periodontist will fold back the gum tissue and clean the bacteria that remain in the pocket that has formed. If your bone has been damaged by the disease they can also smooth the bone to promote healing.
- Soft tissue grafts. To fill in and enlarge your remaining gums, your dentist can take tissue from elsewhere in your mouth and graft it onto the damaged gums.
- Bone Grafts. If your jawbone has been injured by disease, your periodontist can fill in your bone with a hard tissue graft.
- Laser gum surgery. Using the laser-assisted new attachment procedure (LANAP), your dental professional will use a laser to sterilize and kill the bacteria inside the pockets in your gums. In addition to killing the bacteria, the laser will also kill dead tissue and plaque and help reduce the depth of the pockets (so fewer bacteria can proliferate). In the process, this stimulates your gums and bones to grow and helps your gums to heal and re-attach to your teeth.
Treatment Aftercare: What to Expect
Your treatment depends on the stage of your gum disease. Depending on what treatment you received, your doctor will send you home with recommendations for aftercare.
For example, if you had surgery or grafts, you might need to take medication for pain for a few days. You also might use a special mouthwash that helps prevent infection. Depending on the type of treatment you received, be prepared to eat soft foods for a few days and avoid strenuous exercise.
Prevention of Further Loss
Once you’ve seen a dental health professional to get back on the path to good oral health, it’s important to maintain healthy habits to prevent further loss and issues. Here’s how you can help support healthy gums:
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day, and preferably after meals.
- Floss frequently.
- Don’t smoke.
- See a dentist every six months to a year for a cleaning (or more often if you have risk factors).
- Eat a healthy diet low in sugar and high in nutrients to support overall oral health.
At Cherrywood Dental Associates, we like to empower our patients near Woodbridge, VA, and Greenbelt, MD, with information about their oral health. As part of your healthcare team, it’s our goal to provide compassionate care coupled with innovative treatments. If you want to get in touch about how we can help restore your smile, please contact us today.
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