We Know: All About Gum Disease

What is gum disease?

In gum disease, inflammation in the gums may lead to more serious infections that damage the bone and soft tissues around teeth. Untreated infections inevitably lead to tooth loss. Gum disease is also known as periodontal disease. Whether or not you get gum disease depends on how well you care for your teeth.

What causes gum disease?

Lots of bacteria reside in your mouth. Plaque forms when bacteria and saliva come together. You get rid of plaque when you floss and brush, and when you visit your dentist regularly to remove excess plaque below the gum line. Tartar is hardened plaque. Tartar causes gingivitis, a condition characterized by inflammation, swelling, and bleeding in the gums. Brushing and flossing reverses gingivitis.

Untreated gingivitis leads to periodontitis. In periodontitis, the inflammation stretches below the gum line and into the tissues surrounding the tooth. The gum begins to pull away and form deep infectious pockets called periodontal pockets. The infections spread and damage bone, ultimately ending in the removal of the tooth.

What are some of the risk factors for gum disease?

Gum disease is all about how well you take care of your teeth. Any habit that depresses the immune system puts you at risk for gum disease. Among some of the known risk factors are:

  • Smoking
  • Hormonal changes in women sensitize teeth
  • Diabetes
  • Stress
  • Medications
  • Other illness
  • Prior genetic history of gum disease

What are the symptoms of gum disease?

According to the National Institute of Health, gum disease appears in most people between the ages of 30 and 40, with men more likely to get the disease than women. How do you know if you've got gum disease? Check for the following clues:

  • Perpetual bad breath
  • Red, swollen, sensitive, or bleeding gums
  • Pain while chewing
  • Loose teeth

How do you treat gum disease?

If you recognize any of the symptoms listed below, make an appointment to see your dentist. Most treatment methods involve controlling the infection and changing lifestyle habits to control the risks. Methods of treatment include:

  1. Deep cleaning - Scaling and Root Planning
    • Dentists scrape off excess tartar from your teeth (above and below the gum line).
    • Rough spots that provide a nesting ground for bacteria are smoothed, reducing the surface attraction of roaming bacteria.
  2. Medications
    • Deep cleaning may be combined with medications to control bacterial levels and reduce the periodontal pockets of infection. Medications include:
      • Prescription mouth rinse with chlorhexidine
      • Antiseptic chips with chlorhexidine
      • Antibiotics with dioxycycline
      • Antibiotics with minocycline
  3. Surgery
    • If deep cleaning and medications don't reduce infections, surgery may become necessary.
    • Two types of surgery
      • Flap surgery removes the plaque and tartar deposits in deep pockets.
      • Bone and tissue grafts encourage tissue regeneration by grafting new tissue onto spots where tissue has been lost.

How can you prevent gum disease?

Gum disease can best be prevented by maintaining a regular regimen of care. This includes brushing and flossing twice per day. You should schedule regular visits (at least twice per year) with your dental professional to get professional cleaning and plaque removal. Avoiding habits that encourage tartar growth also prevents the onslaught of gum disease.

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