Understanding Gum Disease
Gum disease is an inflammatory condition that silently preys upon approximately 50% of American adults aged 30 and older. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) a study was conducted and published using data from 2009 and 2010 on the prevalence of periodontitis in adults in the US. Findings indicated that an estimated 64.7 million Americans have mild to severe periodontitis. The earliest stage of gum disease is commonly known as gingivitis and affects virtually everyone at some point, both children and adults. Gingivitis is the mildest form of gum disease and when caught early and treated properly with good dental hygiene and proper diet adverse effects can be reversed. If gingivitis is left untreated it can progress to periodontitis and may cause irreversible damage to the gums and bone supporting the teeth.
What is Gum Disease?
So what exactly is gum disease? Gum disease is a chronic form of inflammation that affects the gum tissue in your mouth. The bacteria associated with plaque buildup around the gum line can irritate and infect this soft tissue and when left untreated it can advance into more severe stages of gum disease. There are basically three stages of gum disease which encompass mild, moderate and severe disease.
• Gingivitis (mild gum disease): Plaque buildup is something that everyone gets and with good dental hygiene such as daily brushing, flossing and routine dental visits, in addition to a well-balanced diet, it can be controlled and eliminated. Bacteria in your mouth forms into plaque which can build up on the teeth and gums and can cause inflammation, redness and bleeding which is known as gingivitis. There is no irreversible damage to the gums or bone during this stage. If left untreated, however, gingivitis progressively works its way to a more serious form of gum disease known as periodontitis.
• Periodontitis (moderate gum disease): When gingivitis advances to this stage there is irreversible damage to the gum tissue and the surrounding bone that supports and holds the teeth in place. Deep pockets can form between the gums and teeth (more than 3mm in depth) where food and plaque can get trapped. Serious inflammation and infection underneath the gums can occur. Receiving the proper professional dental care and treatment as well as practicing excellent dental hygiene at home can stave off any further damage.
• Advanced Periodontitis (severe gum disease): This is the final and most serious stage of gum disease. The connective tissues and bone holding the teeth in place are severely damaged which may result in teeth becoming loose or shifting. Aggressive dental treatment may be able to save the existing teeth; however, there is a good chance that teeth may need to be removed in this advanced stage of periodontitis.
Why Does it Occur?
The number one cause of gum disease is a build-up of plaque on the teeth around the gum line. Plaque is basically formed from bacteria in the mouth. It is a type of harmful bacteria that increases in mass and thickness until it forms a sticky, white-yellow type of film that adheres to teeth and the surrounding gums. Plaque can usually be removed with daily brushing and flossing; however, if it is not removed the plaque will continue to build up and the harmful bacteria will attack the gums causing inflammation and infection. As plaque buildup hardens it turns into calculus or tartar and is much more difficult to remove than plaque. Tartar should be removed professionally by a dental hygienist. Other causes of gum disease:
– Genetics can be a major contributing factor to gum disease. If you have a family history of periodontal disease, you may be more likely to develop this problem and it may be necessary to take a more aggressive approach to avoiding gum disease.
– Poor oral hygiene is a very common cause of gum disease. It is extremely important to develop and practice excellent oral hygiene habits like brushing twice a day, flossing, rinsing after meals, and visiting your dentist on a routine basis. A lack of any or all of these practices can result in gingivitis.
– Smoking and tobacco use can put you at a greater risk for gum disease. According to the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, studies have indicated that tobacco use is a significant risk factor for the development of periodontal disease. Smoking makes it more difficult for gum tissue in the mouth to repair itself.
– Hormonal changes can have an affect on the development of gum disease. Puberty, pregnancy, and menopause are some instances where hormonal changes are occurring which can result in increased sensitivity in gums putting the individual at a greater risk for developing gingivitis.
– Illnesses such as cancer or HIV where the immune system is compromised can adversely affect the condition of the gum tissues with a greater likelihood for developing gingivitis. Other types of illnesses like diabetes or the use of certain medications can also be linked to gum disease.
A Dental Exam Will Help Your Family Dentist Diagnose Gum Disease
As part of a dental exam, your family dentist will examine you for the following issues or conditions and will be able to diagnose the presence of gingivitis or periodontitis or the probability for developing gum disease.
– The condition of your gums. Are you experiencing redness, swelling or inflammation, bleeding or tenderness? How deep are the pockets between the gum and the tooth (healthy gums will have a depth anywhere between 1 and 3 mm). The deeper the pocket the more aggressive the gum disease is.
– Your dentist will examine teeth alignment, teeth sensitivity and teeth movement.
– Examining and possibly x-raying your jawbone will help detect any changes in bone structure and the breakdown of bone supporting the teeth.
Gum disease can really sneak up on you and you may not even realize it’s there. The most common symptoms of gingivitis are red, inflamed or tender gums. Gums will also bleed easily when brushing your teeth or flossing. Gums may also start receding which will make your teeth look longer. If you are having persistent issues with bad breath or have a bad taste in your mouth that may be a sign of gum disease. Many of the symptoms can be very subtle so if you are experiencing any of these issues it is best to schedule an appointment with your family dentist for an exam and to discuss your concerns.
If you experience any drastic changes such as the alignment of your teeth seems different or your bite has changed, the gum around a tooth appears to be pulling away from the tooth or a tooth feels loose, you should contact your dentist immediately as this may be a sign of more advanced periodontitis. One of the biggest reasons that many patients ignore the warning signs until it may be too late is because gum disease is typically painless.
Gum disease is a progressive condition; however, when caught early it can be easily treated with no damage to the gums or bone. Even if gingivitis has progressed to periodontitis (affecting millions of Americans over the age of 30 and 70% of adults over age 65) professional treatment is available which can help save your teeth and prevent further damage from occurring. Educating yourself on what gum disease actually is, the causes of gum disease and the warning signs can be a huge help in preventing gum disease.
You are invited to contact Ascent Family Dental for all of your dental care needs. Dr. Williams and his dedicated staff will make you feel welcome and comfortable and can answer any questions or concerns you may have. Make an appointment today to maintain a healthy, beautiful smile.