There is a common problem in oral health, one so pervasive that most people are probably affected by it. Many of them don’t even realize there is an issue.
But gum disease can wreak havoc on your mouth and even affect other systems in the body. Knowing how to prevent it is crucial to good oral health & overall health.
What is gum disease?
Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is an active infection of the gums.
First, let’s talk about how serious gum disease can be. It gets its start when plaque is allowed to build up in the mouth. The bacteria plaque contains can infect the gums, causing inflammation, easy bleeding, and recession. But early gum disease does not cause pain or discomfort, so you might not think you have a problem.
If allowed to spread, the infection can eventually include other tissues around the teeth and the jaw bone. As these are weakened and the gums continue to recede, teeth can loosen and fall out. Gum disease can also increase your risk for heart disease and complicate diabetes. While this might seem uncommon given its extreme nature, nearly half of adults over 30 have advanced gum disease.
The Development of Gum Disease
All of our mouths have good bacteria and bad bacteria, but the bad bacteria (aka biofilm) creates acids that harm the teeth and the surrounding tissue.
When the bacteria is left undisturbed for too long (typically 24-48 hours), plaque begins to form. During this time, you also eat food. This essentially “feeds” the bacteria and causes it to produce more acid.
Then, if you don’t brush your teeth or even if you do, sometimes spots are missed, and that plaque has had enough time to harden and turn into tartar (calculus).
Tartar is extremely hard to remove with toothbrushes & floss (which is why it requires a trained professional). Since it’s likely you’re not getting this off your teeth at home, and maybe can’t even reach it with home-tools, this situation allows the bacteria even more time to develop in your mouth.
Once the bacteria has had enough time sitting on your tooth then cavities begin to form, or enough time residing in the pockets between your teeth then the first stage of gum disease begins.
The First Stage of Gum Disease: Gingivitis
Gingivitis is characterized by red, puffy/swollen gums, and you may even experience some tenderness. When you floss or brush your teeth you’ll also most likely experience bleeding. Bleeding gums, means that there’s a problem, and it’s your body’s way of trying to keep out the foreign bacterial invaders.
At this stage, you still have a chance to stop gum disease. However, once it passes this stage you will never be able to reverse the gum disease & instead, must work to keep it from advancing further.
The Second Stage of Gum Disease: Periodontitis
Periodontitis is the stage where the supporting bone and fibers that hold your teeth in place have experienced irreversible damage. The pockets around your teeth deepen, allowing more food and bacteria to be trapped below the gum line.
You may have all the symptoms of stage one, but typically includes persistent bad breath (sometimes the affected person isn’t even aware of this). And it’s likely that the bleeding and gum discomfort will increase.
The Final Stage of Gum Disease: Advanced Periodontitis
In this final stage of gum disease, you may notice that your bite has shifted in addition to all the symptoms of the above two stages. Other symptoms include: Tooth-loss, gum recession (long-looking teeth), tooth sensitivity (caused by decay or exposed tooth roots), pus, abscesses, and more.
Once this stage has been reached periodontal surgery will most likely be necessary.
Preventing Gum Disease
Prevention is always the best treatment, and gum disease is completely (and easily) preventable. Removing plaque by effective brushing and flossing removes the threat of infecting bacteria. While factors like hormone changes and certain illnesses can increase your susceptibility for gum disease, good oral hygiene prevents its onset and helps ensure great oral health all around.
It’s also essential to be seen at the recommended time by the hygienist and dentist. Only a dental professional can remove tartar, clean below the gum line, and smooth the teeth so that bacteria has a harder time adhering to your teeth. It’s also a great idea to consider having adjunct preventative services when you come in to have your teeth cleaned, such as laser bacterial reduction or perio-protect deep cleaning prevention.
If you’ve already reached stage two then initial periodontal therapy is an excellent option to ensure that things don’t get worse! Remember, it isn’t a one and done sort of situation. When you have periodontal disease it takes an active commitment on your part. You’ll need to be seen more regularly for periodontal maintenance and good home-care is imperative.
When you’re in the final stage of gum disease you still have the chance to prevent the teeth you still have from falling out! Yes, it may require more extensive treatments but preserving your teeth will also help preserve your facial structure.
It’s time to be proactive in your health! At Exceptional Dentistry we offer many periodontal treatments to ensure you maintain a healthy smile. Call to schedule a visit with our dentist, Dr. James D. Powell, in Palmdale, CA. We’ll look forward to serving you!