What is gum disease?
Have you heard the saying someone is getting “long in the tooth”? It’s an old saying somewhat rudely implying that someone is getting older, but your teeth don’t actually get longer as you age. Instead, unfortunately for many, gum disease leads to the destruction of tissues surrounding the teeth, causing them to look longer as the roots of the teeth get exposed. In addition to recession, other signs of gum disease include bleeding gums, shifting teeth, and persistent bad tastes or smells in the mouth.
So what causes gum disease?
Gum disease is separated into two categories based off severity: Gingivitis and Periodontitis.
Gingivitis literally means inflammation of the gum tissue. This is the earliest stage of gum disease, and pretty much everyone will experience it at some point in their lives. It is usually caused by a buildup of plaque on the teeth due to inadequate oral hygiene – especially inadequate brushing. Common signs of gingivitis include bleeding when flossing or brushing and “puffy” gums. Gingivitis does not cause any permanent damage, as the tissues underneath the gums are not affected. The treatment for gingivitis is a good cleaning! After your hygienist has thoroughly cleaned the teeth, it is up to you to keep them clean at home. With good hygiene gingivitis can largely be prevented.
There are some other risk factors for gingivitis. Smoking can increase the chance of developing gum disease. Diabetes or other systemic diseases that may cause a disruption in normal immune function can contribute as well. Having overlapped or crooked teeth can make it harder to adequately clean plaque away, which can contribute to developing gum disease.
When gingivitis goes untreated for too long, it can advance to a more serious form of gum disease: Periodontitis.
Periodontitis is a severe form of gum disease that can result in the loss of bone and tissues surrounding teeth over time. Chronic Periodontitis is the most common form and usually occurs as you get older, as it is a slowly-progressing disease. Besides tooth decay, periodontitis is the leading cause of tooth lose. It slowly causes teeth to loosen as the tissues around them are destroyed, leading to them becoming longer-looking, mobile, and sometimes infected.
It is often the case that there are no symptoms of periodontal disease until it is relatively advanced in its course. This is one of the reasons that regular cleanings at your dentist are essential. By monitoring the status of the tissues surrounding your teeth, your dentist can catch gum disease at an early stage and recommend treatments to prevent further damage.
Is Gum Disease linked to any other disorders?
There have been several studies over the years linking gum disease to serious systemic medical conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, low birth weight, stroke, and others. However, research is ongoing. It is difficult to prove a conclusive relationship between a long-term progressive disease like periodontitis and other systemic conditions because it is challenging to isolate other factors from the equation. Nevertheless, experts agree that periodontal disease is certainly not good for your overall systemic well-being.
How is Gum Disease treated?
At its earliest stage – Gingivitis – a simple cleaning with the hygienist is usually enough to prevent further issues. But the hygienist cannot brush your teeth for you every day! Good homecare is essential to maintain healthy gums and prevent cavities. Brushing 2-3 times daily and flossing at least once a day can prevent most forms of gum disease.
If periodontitis has already commenced, the dentist will recommend more advanced treatment than a simple cleaning. With mild to moderate periodontal disease, a scaling and root planning procedure, often called a “deep cleaning”, may be prescribed. This process involves cleaning tartar and bacteria beneath the gums in addition to the standard cleaning above the gums. Often a numbing gel is used to make the process less uncomfortable. The goal is to prevent future tissue damage, but as always, good homecare is essential for a successful result.
With severe bone loss, a referral to a Periodontist – a gum disease specialist – maybe recommended. These doctors specialize in gum health, treatment, and surgeries, and can provide the most advanced treatments for severe forms of gum disease.
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