Burr Ridge dentist answers, ‘What do I need to know about gum disease?’
Gum disease is a dental condition that is the number one cause of adult tooth loss, and impacts overall health. Treating gum disease can be an involved process, depending on how advanced the condition has progressed. Patients with gum disease often need to manage it as a chronic condition to improve oral health long-term. Dr. Stopka warns her patients in Burr Ridge that gum disease can be silent, often not becoming symptomatic until it has progressed and caused irreversible damage. Because of this, she encourages all her patients to know the signs of gum disease and how you can prevent the condition from ruining your health.
How gum disease begins
A diagnosis of gum disease begins with plaque, a sticky biofilm that adheres to the teeth, gums, and tooth roots. How does it get stuck on the teeth? Bacteria are found naturally in the mouth and continuously form plaque, which we eliminate through brushing and flossing. When plaque is not removed, it begins to harden and form tartar, a substance that cannot be removed through at home brushing. Tartar build-up requires professional cleaning by a dentist or hygienist.
When plaque and tartar are left on the teeth, the bacteria release acids that cause inflammation of the gum tissue known as gingivitis. In gingivitis, patients will notice red, swollen gums that bleed. Gingivitis is the mildest form of gum disease that can be reversed with improved oral hygiene and regular dental cleaning by a professional. Gingivitis does not cause bone loss.
If gingivitis is not treated, it can progress to increasingly severe levels of periodontitis. In periodontitis, the gums separate from the teeth, forming pockets where bacteria are trapped and cause infection. As periodontitis progresses, the bacterial infection triggers an immune response that causes the body to break down bone and tissue holding teeth in place. Eventually teeth will begin to loosen and fall out or require extraction.
Risk Factor for gum disease
There are certain risk factors that can increase your chances of developing gum disease.
- Smoking – Smoking is one of the biggest risk factors for gum disease, and it can lower the response to successful treatment.
- Hormones – Hormone changes, particularly during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause can make the gums more sensitive and susceptible to gingivitis.
- Diabetes – Patients with diabetes are at a higher risk for gum disease and other infections.
- Genetics – Some people with a family history of gum disease may be more prone to develop it.
- Medications – Certain medications can inhibit the flow of saliva which can make the gums more susceptible to infection.
How can I tell if I have gum disease?
Because the condition doesn’t always show symptoms until it’s advanced, it may be hard for individuals to know if they have gum disease. You should see your dentist as soon as possible if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Chronic bad breath
- Inflamed, red gums
- Gums that bleed easily when brushing or flossing
- Loose teeth
- Sensitive teeth
- Receding gums
How do we treat gum disease?
Treatment for gum disease depends on how far it has progressed. The goal is to eliminate the infection and stop the loss of gum tissue, bone, and teeth whenever possible. With all treatments, it’s important to improve oral hygiene at home to keep the mouth healthy. Patients who smoke are encouraged to quit, as it can improve the outcome of treatment.
- Scaling and Root Planing – This professional deep cleaning removes tartar that has accumulated above and below the gum line and then smooths out any rough spots on the root.
- Medication – Prescription antimicrobial mouthwashes, antibiotic gels, and oral antibiotics may be used to control bacteria, reduce periodontal pockets, and eliminate infection.
- Surgery – In some cases, patients may require surgical treatments such as flap surgery or bone and tissue grafts.
Preventing gum disease
While gum disease can be difficult to treat, it’s relatively easy to prevent. The following steps can keep your teeth and gums healthy:
- Brush teeth at least twice a day
- Floss at least once a day
- Maintain routine dental exams and cleanings
- Don’t smoke
We invite patients in the Burr Ridge area to call Janet S. Stopka, DDS, PC today to schedule an exam to learn more about gum disease and how you can prevent it.