If you’ve made it through the cavity-prone years without a cavity, you deserve congratulations. Nevertheless, when it comes to dental disease, you may not be out of the woods yet. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of Americans over age 30 have some form of periodontal (gum) disease. So even though you have strong healthy teeth, you can lose them to gum disease without proper gum care.
Cause of Periodontal Disease
Just like tooth decay, periodontal disease starts with a sticky film of bacterial plaque that forms on your teeth. When plaque is left to collect around your gum line, your gums can become irritated and inflamed. This initial stage of gum disease is called gingivitis and is easily reversed with thorough brushing and flossing.
However, if not removed regularly, plaque hardens into tartar. As tartar builds up around the gum line, your gums will become increasingly inflamed and swollen and will eventually pull away from the tooth, forming a loose pocket. These pockets can become infected as more tartar and bacteria accumulate in them, and the harmful toxins begin to destroy the bone and ligaments that support your teeth. This advanced phase of gum disease is called periodontitis, and if left untreated, can lead to tooth loss.
Warning Signs of Gum Disease
Gum disease can be sneaky, and some signs don’t appear until it has advanced. So to avoid losing any teeth unnecessarily, call your dentist at the first hint of a problem. Here are some of the warning signs:
- Sore, red, swollen or bleeding gums
- Bad breath or unpleasant taste that persists
- Pain when chewing
- Receding gums
- Loose teeth
- Changes in your bite or the fit of your partial dentures
Even though the leading cause of periodontal disease is bacteria from poor oral hygiene, factors like osteoporosis, diabetes, AIDS and other autoimmune diseases can increase your risk of developing periodontal disease or amplify the severity of existing gum disease. Heredity, stress, female hormonal changes—especially during pregnancy—or the use of oral contraceptives can contribute to gum disease, as can dry mouth from taking certain medications. Dental-related risks include crooked teeth, defective fillings and improper fitting bridges. And if you need a reason to stop smoking, the National Institute of Dental Craniofacial Research says that not only is smoking associated with gum disease, it also interferes with successful treatment.
If caught and treated early, gingivitis is completely reversible, and usually a professional cleaning and good home care cures the problem. However, when you have pocketing around the teeth, treatment will involve a deep cleaning called scaling and root planing. Your dentist or hygienist will scale or scrap the tartar off your teeth and below the gum line, and then smooth any rough areas on the roots, so that bacteria can’t hide out and do more damage. As long as there is no bone loss, the gum tissue should tighten and become healthy again.
But if you do have some bone loss, there are many surgical procedures your dentist can recommend to stop the disease process and save your teeth. Sometimes surgery is needed to clean out deep pockets and reshape the bone around the teeth, or tissue and bone grafting procedures can be done to allow bone and connective tissue to regenerate.
Gum Care for Prevention
Prevention is still the best medicine for periodontal disease. If you adhere to these simple oral health habits, most likely gum disease won’t be a problem for you.
- Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste
- Floss at least once a day
- Change out your toothbrush every three months
- Use an antimicrobial mouthwash for extra protection
- See your dentist twice a year for checkups
- Follow your dentist’s recommended schedule for professional cleanings
- Keep your blood sugar under control if you are diabetic
- Eat healthy and limit sugary snacks
- Stop smoking
So it’s pretty plain to see that good oral health is more than having strong, cavity-free teeth. If you want to keep your teeth for a lifetime, strong, healthy gums are a must.