Gum disease – also known as periodontal disease and periodontitis – is an inflammatory condition affecting the tissues surrounding a tooth, and is the leading cause of tooth loss. Once it sets in, the toxins produced by the bacteria damage the teeth’s connective tissue and bone, effectively destroying them and fostering tooth loss.
Types of gum disease
There are several types of gum disease or periodontitis. The more common types include:
- Chronic periodontitis – It is the most common type, which affects mostly adults although children may be affected, too. This type of periodontitis is caused by plaque buildup and involves a slow deterioration of the condition that may improve or get worse over time. It causes destruction in the gums and bone, resulting in loss of teeth if not properly addressed.
- Aggressive periodontitis – This type begins typically in childhood or early adulthood. It affects only a small number of people. This condition tends to affect families and caused rapid progression of bone loss and tooth loss if not addressed properly.
- Necrotizing periodontal disease – This condition is characterized by the death of the gum tissue, tooth ligaments, and supporting bone due to the lack of blood supply, which results in infection. This type of gum disease typically occurs in people with a compromised immune system, such as from HIV infection, cancer treatment, and other causes, including malnutrition.
Causes of Gum Disease
In most cases, gum disease begins with plaque – the sticky film composed mainly of bacteria. If not treated properly, plaque can eventually advance to gum disease following these steps:
- Formation of plaque on your teeth – Plaque starts forming when starches and sugars in food that you eat interact with bacteria that normally inhabits your mouth. Brushing your teeth twice daily and flossing once daily remove plaque, which can re-form quickly.
- Hardening of plaque under your gumline into tartar or calculus – When not removed by brushing, flossing or dental cleaning, plaque will stay in your teeth and harden to become tartar. Tartar is much more difficult to remove as it is filled with bacteria. The longer you have plaque and tartar on your teeth, the more damage they can bring. Tartar cannot be removed simply by brushing and flossing. You will need professional dental cleaning to remove it.
- Plaque causes gingivitis – The formation of plaque is the beginning of gingivitis, which is the mildest form of periodontal disease. Gingivitis is inflammation and irritation of the part of your gum around the base of your teeth – gingiva. Gingivitis is reversible as long as you will get professional dental treatment and good home oral care.
- Ongoing inflammation of the gum may lead to periodontitis or gum disease – When the inflammation of the gum is not treated, it may eventually lead to pockets developing between your gum and teeth. The pockets are filled with plaque, tartar, and bacteria. Over time, these pockets will become deeper, filling them with more bacteria. If left untreated, the deep infections can result in a loss of tissue and bone. Ultimately, you may lose one or more teeth. Ongoing chronic inflammation of the gums may put a strain on your immune system.
Symptoms of gum disease
Healthy gums are firm and pale pink in color. They fit snuggly around the teeth. You have gum disease when you observe the following symptoms:
- Swollen or puffy gums
- Bright red, purplish or dusky red gums
- Gums that easily bleed
- Gums that feel tender when touched
- Gums that recede from your teeth, making your teeth look longer than normal
- Pus between the teeth and gums
- New spaces developing between your teeth
- Loose teeth
- Bad breath
- Painful chewing
- A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
Gum Disease Treatment
If you develop gum disease, it is very important to seek prompt treatment. Left untreated, gum disease can lead to missing teeth. Researchers have also discovered a link between gum disease and heart disease. It is though that the bacteria responsible for causing gum disease may enter the bloodstream and cause damage to the heart and blood vessels.
When gum disease is caught in the early stages, you can usually reverse it simply by improving your oral hygiene routine. Focus on brushing more thoroughly, using a soft toothbrush that won’t irritate your overly sensitive gums. Spend more time brushing along the gum line of your upper and lower jaw. Floss daily. If you have trouble using regular dental floss, use flossing picks, or talk to your dentist about buying a water flosser, which is a tool that shoots water between your teeth to remove plaque and bacteria. Also, rinse your mouth out with an antiseptic mouthwash twice a day to kill any lingering bacteria.
If the methods above to not alleviate your gingivitis symptoms within a week or two, your dentist may prescribe an antibiotic gel or cream you can apply to your gums daily. You should also have your teeth professionally cleaned by a dental hygienist. Only a professional cleaning can remove tartar, a hardened form of plaque that often forms along the gum line and can harbor bacteria, making gingivitis harder to treat. If your gum disease is serious, your dentist may use a more intensive cleaning process called scaling and planing. For this procedure, your mouth will be numbed to prevent discomfort. Special tools will be used to scrape plaque and tartar from beneath your gum line. Your gums may be a bit sore for a few days after the procedure, so you’ll want to stick to soft foods and brush gently until you heal.
If you have pockets in your gums, loose teeth, receding gums, or other signs of periodontitis, your dentist will treat your gum disease more aggressively or refer you to a periodontist for one of these surgical approaches.
- Flap Surgery: This is a procedure in which the extra gum tissue is cut away and the gums are re-stitched to get rid of any flaps. With the flaps gone, there are fewer places for oral bacteria to hide, so you’ll have an easier time fighting off gum disease with good oral hygiene and perhaps antibiotics.
- Tissue Grafts: If the bacteria have begun to erode your gums, periodontal ligaments, or the bone tissue in your jaw, your dentist may need to perform a tissue graft to replace the missing or damaged tissue. Donor tissue may be obtained from the roof of your mouth and grafted where it is needed.
- Guided Bone Tissue Regeneration: One problem that can occur when your body is trying to heal from gum disease is the gum tissue growing into space that should be occupied by bone tissue. To prevent this from occurring, your dentist may perform a procedure called guided bone tissue regeneration. A special piece of mesh is placed along the edge of your gum tissue to hold it in place and prevent it from growing into the bone space.
Gum Disease Prevention
The best way to prevent gum disease is regularly practicing three things:
- Brush your teeth twice a day — with fluoride toothpaste
- Floss at least once daily to remove food debris and plaque from between the teeth
- Visit your dentist for a professional dental cleaning at least once every six months.
Besides those three, there are other things you can do to decrease the risks of developing gum disease and decreasing the speed of its development:
- Stop tobacco consumption. Smoking and chewing tobacco can increase the risk of getting gum disease by 700%. Also, tobacco consumption can lower the success rate of gum disease treatments.
- Maintain a good diet. Proper, healthy diet can help your body in fighting infections.
- Don’t stress yourself. Stress can lower your body’s immune system.