What is Periodontal (Gum) Disease?
Gum disease is swelling, soreness, or infection of the tissues supporting the teeth caused by bacteria buildup in the mouth. The bacteria creates plaque on teeth, leading to an infection on the gum line. In the advanced stages, dental plaque hardens into tartar, which is impossible to remove by simply brushing and must be treated by a dentist.
There are two forms of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontal disease. Gingivitis means “inflammation of the gums.” It occurs when the gums around the teeth become very red and swollen. Gingivitis often results in bleeding while flossing or brushing.
Severe or long-lasting gingivitis can turn into periodontal disease. There are several types of periodontal disease affecting the gum tissue supporting the teeth. As the disease worsens, the jawbone anchoring the teeth is lost, making the teeth loose.
If left untreated, periodontal disease can result in tooth decay, tooth loss, and deterioration of the jawbone, causing ongoing pain and complications. Gum disease has been linked with conditions such as diabetes, strokes, cardiovascular disease, poor pregnancy outcomes, and dementia. While more research is needed to understand these links, there is growing evidence that a healthy mouth can improve your general health.
Symptoms of periodontitis include:
- Gum inflammation
- Very red or painful gums
- Bleeding while brushing or flossing
- Painful flossing
- Receding gums
- Persistent bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth
- Formation of deep periodontal pockets between teeth and gums
- Pain when chewing
- Shifting or loose teeth
- Changes in the way teeth fit together when biting down, or in the fit of partial dentures
Even if you don’t notice any symptoms, you may have an early stage of periodontal disease. The disease may affect only certain teeth, such as the molars. Only a dental professional can identify all of the warning signs of gum disease.
Risk Factors of Gum Disease
Along with poor or infrequent brushing of gums and teeth, periodontal disease can be caused by:
- Hormonal changes, such as those occurring during pregnancy, puberty, menopause, and monthly menstruation.
- Illnesses that interfere with the immune system, such as cancer or HIV.
- Medications that lessen the flow of saliva, which has a protective effect on teeth and gums.
- Smoking, which causes a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream, impacting gum health.
- Family history of dental disease.
How to Prevent Periodontal Disease
Patients can prevent gum disease by practicing proper plaque control. This consists of daily brushing and flossing, which will remove mouth bacteria, and professional cleanings at least twice a year to remove plaque and tartar.
Brush your teeth and gums twice a day. Use fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled brush. Replace your toothbrush every three months, or sooner if the bristles become frayed. Worn-out toothbrushes won’t remove plaque and clean your mouth as well as new ones.
Floss daily. Flossing removes food and plaque from between teeth and under the gum line — places your toothbrush can’t reach. Interdental cleaners, picks, or small brushes can also clean between teeth and along the gum line. Ask your dentist how to use them, so you don’t damage your gums.
Treatment Options for Gum Disease
During scaling, your dentist removes all the plaque and tartar above and below the gum line. With root planing, your dentist then smoothes out your teeth roots to help your gums reattach to your teeth. You will then be provided with instructions on how to maintain good daily oral health habits to aid healing and to prevent gingivitis or periodontal disease from reoccurring.