According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 64.7 million American adults suffer from gum disease. That’s about half of the population over the age of 30!
Because gum disease may not be painful in its early stages, patients are often unaware of the condition. However, if you notice red, swollen, or tender gums that bleed when you brush or floss, call us to schedule an appointment. Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is a condition that begins as gingivitis, but can become a more serious problem—one that is a common cause of tooth loss!
What is Gum (Periodontal) Disease?
Gum disease is an infection that affects both the tissues and bone around the teeth. It is a condition that has been linked to other medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. For these reasons, it’s important to maintain the health of your gums!
Gum disease is caused by a buildup of plaque (a sticky film) on your teeth. Plaque contains harmful bacteria that can irritate the gum tissue. When your gums are inflamed, they can pull away from the teeth to form spaces called “pockets.” These pockets can then collect more bacteria, thereby worsening the condition, and causing damage not only to the tissue, but also to the bone around the teeth.
Common signs of gum disease include:
- Bad breath that doesn’t go away
- Bleeding gums when you brush or floss
- Tender, swollen or inflamed gums
- Recession of the gums (tissue that has pulled away from the teeth)
- Visible buildup of tartar on the teeth
- Loose or separating teeth
- A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
Sometimes, regular brushing and flossing can help to improve these symptoms; however, professional dental intervention is ultimately needed to help treat these symptoms, as well as to help reverse any damage.
How Do You Check for Gum Disease?
Dr. Schultz uses what is called a “periodontal probe” to gently measure the pockets around each tooth, as a part of your comprehensive exam. Usually, the deeper the pocket, the more severe the disease.
Dr. Schultz also takes digital x-rays to check the amount of bone surrounding each tooth. Based on her findings, she will then recommend a customized hygiene program, tailored to your specific needs.
Am I at Risk for Gum (Periodontal) Disease?
Anyone can develop periodontal disease, but some factors can increase your risk:
- Poor hygiene habits
- Use of tobacco products
- Use of certain medications (such as steroids or blood pressure medications)
- Teens, pregnant women, and women taking birth control medications
How to Prevent Gum Disease
Gum disease is easily preventable when routine oral hygiene habits are put into place. Some ways to prevent gum disease include:
- Brushing regularly, which means twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
- Flossing daily, to remove plaque and any food your toothbrush can’t reach.
- Use of a germ-fighting mouth rinse, if recommended.
- Routine cleanings, to prevent the accumulation of plaque on the teeth. If plaque stays on the teeth, it hardens to become tartar (calculus), which traps bacteria along the gum line, and can only be professionally removed.
- Eating a healthy diet.
- Avoiding tobacco use, which can contribute to periodontal disease.
Treatment for Gum (Periodontal) Disease
Treatment for gum disease can vary–depending on the type of gum disease, as well as its severity. If gum disease is caught in its early stages (gingivitis), and the supporting framework (bone) under the teeth is unharmed, a simple professional cleaning can be done.
If more severe disease is present, a special deep cleaning called “scaling and root planing” is often needed to remove plaque and tartar from the bottom of each pocket. During this appointment, the root surfaces of the teeth are also smoothed to allow your gum tissue to heal, thereby reattaching itself to your teeth. These treatments may require more than one visit, depending on your individual diagnosis and treatment needs. Sometimes, medications may be recommended to help control infection and pain, or to help with healing. A follow-up visit is then scheduled to see how your gums have healed.
Occasionally, if these pockets do not heal after scaling and root planing, Dr. Schultz may refer you to a periodontist (a dentist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of periodontal disease) for additional treatment. Healthy gums are just as important as healthy teeth, and we look forward to helping you keep them clean and strong! Contact us today for more information!