Gum Disease 101
Our mouths are filled with bacteria. Sometimes these germs lead to the development of abscesses. Sometimes that can affect our gums, causing inflammation and irritation or, worse, gum disease. Typically, there are warning signs that occur before gum disease sets in. By addressing them right away, you might be able to prevent infection from disrupting your oral health. However, there are various causes of disease development. Here, we’ll explore the causes of gum disease as well as its symptoms and most effective treatments.
What Is Gum Disease?
Also known as periodontal disease (periodontitis), gum disease is an infection of the gums, the tissues that surround and hold your teeth in place. Periodontitis is a serious condition that can lead to substantial damage to these tissues. In fact, left untreated, it can lead to bone decay that may cause the teeth to loosen or even tooth loss. Although this condition is relatively common (the Centers for Disease Control estimate that more than 64 million Americans have it), it is often preventable with good oral hygiene habits and regular dental exams.
What Causes Gum Disease?
The most common cause of gum disease is plaque. Plaque is bacteria. Brushing and flossing daily removes plaque’s sticky film that can build up on our teeth. Your gums are soft tissue that does a good job of protecting the more sensitive parts of your teeth. However, if your gums become inflamed due to a lack of proper care, they can bleed and pull away from your teeth, leaving them vulnerable to infection and disease.
Bleeding gums can become a gateway for gum disease to spread. If you suffer from bleeding or inflamed gums, a condition known as gingivitis, you are at greater risk for developing periodontitis. However, not all forms of gum disease are caused by gingivitis.
Even though gingivitis is the primary precursor to periodontitis, other problems can cause gum disease too. For example, there may be a genetic predisposition for this type of disease. If several people in your family have developed gum disease in spite of good oral health care, there may be some heredity factors at play. Some patients develop gum disease as a result of hormonal changes. For example, pregnancy, puberty onset, and menopause can leave the gums vulnerable to periodontitis.
Some patients who are experiencing other health conditions like cancer or HIV have a compromised immune system. This can leave the gums more vulnerable to gum disease development. There are also some medications that can detract from oral health. And, some lifestyle habits like smoking, vaping, and drug use can put a patient at higher risk for periodontitis.
What Are the Symptoms of Gum Disease?
Often, the first symptom that a person will notice is the presence of blood in their spit, which occurs as they’re brushing their teeth. However, blood isn’t an absolute indicator of periodontitis. It’s more likely that the individual has a touch of gingivitis. Nevertheless, if the gums bleed easily, even with light brushing, there is a chance that periodontitis is present.
The most common symptoms of gum disease to watch out for include:
- Bleeding gums (especially if the gums bleed easily and frequently)
- Gum swelling and inflammation
- Dark gums (the gums may appear dark red or almost purple)
- Gums are tender to the touch
- Chewing is painful
- Bad breath
- Bad taste in the mouth
- The presence of pus between the teeth
- Receding gums
- New spaces form between the teeth
- Tooth loss or tooth loosening
Some of these symptoms, as you can see, are quite severe. Gum disease can often be successfully managed before it gets to the loose tooth and tooth loss stage. Like any form of infection, periodontitis is apt to worsen without treatment.
What Complications Can Occur?
Tooth loss is a serious complication, but severe gum disease can actually lead to life-threatening health conditions too. Severe periodontitis can enter the body’s bloodstream, causing the infection to spread to other areas of the body, including vital organs. In fact, medical researchers have linked gum disease to conditions like stroke and heart disease. If the infection spreads to the valves of the heart, causing bacterial endocarditis, it can lead to death.
Diagnosing Gum Disease
Gum disease can be treated successfully, but as you might imagine, it’s easier to treat in its earlier stages, before the infection can become rampant. The first step in the treatment process, however, is diagnosis. If you suspect you have periodontitis, visit our dental office. Our dentists may be able to diagnose this condition simply by viewing your gums. On the other hand, they are certainly likely to order X-rays to see if there is any underlying damage to your teeth. They will also take measurements. If the depth of the gum pockets exceeds three millimeters, the presence of gum disease can be confirmed.
How Is Gum Disease Treated?
Our dentists and dental hygienists are trained to treat gum disease. However, they may also refer patients to a periodontist, especially when the disease is advanced or other health conditions are present. In its early stages, periodontitis can often be combatted successfully with non-surgical treatments such as antibiotics. Depending on your specific condition, your dentist might prescribe an oral or topical antibiotic to treat your infection.
In some cases, your dentist will perform a procedure known as scaling. They may use an ultrasonic device or a laser to remove the plaque within the pockets of the gums as well as from the surface of teeth. They may also perform ‘root planing.’ This is a procedure where the dentists smooth the gums, making them less vulnerable to bacteria buildup.
In some cases, patients may require a surgical form of treatment for their gum disease. The most common surgical treatment of periodontitis is flap surgery. This procedure reduces the gum’s pocket size and exposes the roots, allowing our dentist to more easily smooth them and remove plaque buildup. If the bones have been affected by gum disease, our dentist may recommend additional procedures to resolve the issues.
If you’re experiencing any symptoms of gum disease, it’s important to visit our dental clinic to determine if periodontitis is present. As you can tell, it’s much easier for you and our dentist to combat this problem in its early stages. Remember, too, that gum disease is largely preventable. With optimum oral hygiene and regular dental visits, you may be able to prevent conditions such as gingivitis and gum disease onset.
Schedule an appointment with Godley Station Dental today. Let us help you get on the right track to better oral health.