Tooth decay may be a threat to children and teens, but it is periodontal disease (also known as gum disease) that affects nearly 50 percent of adults over the age of 30, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If left untreated, gum disease can slowly progress to the point that the bone anchoring your teeth becomes weakened and eventually destroyed. But fortunately, recognizing and treating gum disease in its early stages can prevent it from wreaking havoc on your mouth—and wallet.
In the interest of keeping your coworkers healthy and out of the dental surgeon’s office, it’s a good idea to make gum disease a topic of conversation at the office. Here’s what you need to know about diagnosing and addressing symptoms.
Causes of Gum Disease
Bacteria found in the mouth continually form a sticky plaque on the teeth, mostly accumulating around the gums. When the plaque is not thoroughly removed (by regular brushing and flossing), bacterial acids—which irritate and inflame the gum tissue—are often produced.
The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research notes that plaque eventually hardens into tartar, which cannot be removed with a toothbrush. As tartar builds up under the gum line, the tissue typically becomes more inflamed and pulls away from the teeth, ultimately forming deep pockets. Over time, these crevices can become infected, slowly destroying supporting bones and the ligament around your teeth.
Symptoms of Gum Disease
Early signs of gum disease include persistent bad breath and red, swollen or bleeding gums. However, as the disease progresses, the gums may recede or pull away from the teeth. This can result in sensitivity to hot and cold foods as well as pain while chewing, and even cause teeth to loosen due to bone loss. The way your teeth fit together can become noticeably different, and if you wear dentures, you may find that they no longer fit properly.
Treating Gum Disease
When gum disease is identified early, a professional cleaning by a dentist or hygienist (and a rigorous care routine of brushing and flossing at both home and the office) will quickly return your gum tissue to its firm, healthy, pink state. You may be referred to a dental specialist in gum disease called a periodontist. Scheduling routine cleanings every six months will help keep your gums healthy for the long term.
If tartar has built up under your gums and pockets have begun to form, a nonsurgical procedure called “root planing and scaling” may be required. This involves removing the tartar and smoothing the root surface so that bacteria can’t hide and continue to cause problems. Most times, this allows the gum tissue to heal and tighten around the tooth again.
However, in advanced cases with a lot of bone loss, root planing and scaling may need to be followed by periodontal surgery to save the tooth. One type of surgery is a flap procedure, where the dentist or periodontist exposes the root surface in order to thoroughly remove the tartar and bacteria. Other surgeries—such as bone or tissue grafts—promote bone and connective tissue growth to help stabilize the tooth.
After treating gum disease, dental professionals usually want to see the patient every three months for maintenance visits. These appointments typically consist of routine cleanings as well as exams that measure pockets around the teeth. If the dentist notices that an issue isn’t improving, steps can be taken to immediately correct the problem.
Considering Treatment Costs
Periodontal treatment can be very expensive, and even with a dental plan that has periodontal coverage, the cost of surgery may exceed the yearly maximum—leaving you (or your coworkers) with a significant out-of-pocket expense. In these instances, you could elect to have part of the surgery done at the end of one plan year and schedule additional surgery at the beginning of the next year.
It’s important to address dental issues as you notice them. When patients wait too long to visit the dentist and teeth are lost due to untreated gum disease, the necessary tooth replacements can also be costly. Accordingly, insurance premiums for plans that cover periodontal treatments and replacement procedures are usually higher due to the larger benefit payouts.
As with any health condition, preventing gum disease (or catching it early) is the best medicine—and it’s the best way to avoid the expense of costly treatment. Discussing common symptoms with your fellow employees, seeing a dentist regularly for cleanings and maintaining a fastidious care routine at home and the office can go a long way in keeping gum disease something you and your colleagues only read about.
Interested to learn more oral wellness best practices and find related resources? Explore the information contained within the Dental Health Center on United Concordia Dental’s website!