What is Gum Disease?
Gum disease is caused by infection, and it’s a common problem in the U.S. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), 80 percent of adults have some form of gum disease. The main cause of this condition is poor oral hygiene.
The early stage of gum disease is gingivitis, which, without treatment, can progress to periodontitis (or periodontal disease) and advanced periodontitis.
If you have gingivitis, your gums may bleed when you brush your teeth and you may get bad breath. Periodontal disease attacks more of the tissue that secures your teeth in place.
Periodontitis can damage your jaw and create spaces between your teeth and gums. This can loosen your teeth, which may eventually fall out – periodontal disease is the leading cause of tooth loss among adults.
Gum disease results from a build-up of plaque on the teeth. Plaque is a sticky film that contains bacteria. Some bacteria in plaque are harmless but others can damage your gums. If plaque is not removed from your teeth by brushing and flossing, it accumulates and irritates the gums. This can lead to soreness, bleeding, redness, and swelling.
How is Gum Disease Treated?
In mild cases of gum disease, you may be able to resolve the issue by a good routine of oral hygiene. Regular dental check-ups and professional cleanings are also important. If plaque has hardened into tartar (calculus), it can only be removed by a dentist or dental hygienist. If you have more serious gum disease, it’s highly likely you’ll need further non-surgical treatment. Advanced cases of periodontitis may require surgery.
Non-Surgical Treatments for Gum Disease
The most common non-surgical treatments for gum disease include deep cleaning (scaling and root planing) and medications to combat infection. While routine professional cleaning involves the surface of the teeth, scaling addresses problems below the gum line. Root planing smoothes the surfaces of tooth roots so your gums can re-attach to them properly.
Anti-inflammatory medication is often prescribed in conjunction with scaling and root planing. These antibiotics can be in tablet form or placed directly into the gum. Your dentist may also recommend a toothpaste containing fluoride and a special antibacterial ingredient.
If your condition responds well to scaling and root planing and antibiotics, you may not need further treatment, although a program of periodontal maintenance is usually necessary to enable routine cleanings and monitoring of your gums.
Surgical Treatments for Gum Disease
If periodontal disease has destroyed the bone and soft tissue supporting your teeth, you may need surgical treatment.
Periodontal surgical options include:
- Pocket reduction surgery. Also known as gingivectomy, flap surgery or osseous surgery, pocket depth reduction folds back gum tissue to allow removal of underlying bacteria, plaque and tartar, and diseased tissue.
- Guided tissue regeneration. Guided tissue regeneration can be performed in conjunction with pocket depth reduction. A section of fabric mesh is inserted between the gum and bone. This prevents the gum tissue from encroaching into the space where the bone should be, allowing the bone and connective tissue to regenerate and better support the teeth.
- Soft-tissue graft. If you your gums have receded through periodontal disease, a soft-tissue graft can restore them to their original, healthy condition.
- Bone Graft. Periodontal bone grafting involves adding graft material to existing bone in the jaw, which then forms new bone tissue. This procedure is sometimes necessary ahead of dental implant treatment.
Symptoms of Gum Disease
Initial stages of gum disease may be barely noticeable – if at all. For instance, you may experience no pain. And plaque, being transparent, is difficult to spot.
The first indication of gum disease is often bleeding gums when you clean your teeth or eat. You may also notice that instead of being firm and pink, your gums have become spongy and red.
Another sign of gum disease is teeth appearing to be longer because of gum recession, which occurs when the soft tissue around your teeth erodes to expose more of the tooth.
Other symptoms of gum disease include:
- Tooth sensitivity.
- Loose teeth.
- Persistent bad breath (halitosis).
- Mouth sores.
- Pus between gums and teeth.
- A change in your bite function.
Only a dental professional can definitively recognize the development and progression of gum disease.
As well as assessing your gums, your dentist will check:
- Alignment of your teeth.
- Depth of periodontal pockets (space between gums and teeth).
- Condition of your jaw bone.
Pointing out that gum disease may exhibit no obvious symptoms, the American Dental Association (ADA) says regular dental check-ups are crucial to spot early signs of the problem, which will allow the most effective treatment. The AAP (American Academy of Periodontology) recommends an annual comprehensive periodontal evaluation (CPE) for all adults.
Can I Prevent Gum Disease?
Some people get gum disease through no fault of their own. The problem can develop with aging and through other factors such as genetics, having to take certain medications, and hormonal changes in women.
However, many causes of gum disease can be countered by a change in lifestyle. The first line of defense against gum disease is regular brushing and flossing to prevent plaque and tartar building up. An antibacterial mouthwash will reinforce your oral health routine.
A poor diet can weaken the body’s immune system, while obesity has also been linked with gum disease. Other research indicates that smoking may be one of the most serious risk factors in developing gum disease.
Importance of Early Diagnosis
Statistics show that most adults in the U.S. suffer from some form of gum disease, which can destroy teeth and gum and bone tissue. Infections from gum disease can also spread to other parts of the body, including vital organs.
Early diagnosis and treatment of gum disease provides the best chance for a successful outcome without invasive surgical procedures. See your dentist at least twice a year for check-ups, which will include professional cleanings.
If periodontal disease is suspected, ask your dentist whether referral to a periodontal specialist would be beneficial.