Clean, healthy teeth and gums are important for more than just an attractive smile. Gum diseases are serious infections that can lead to tooth loss. Unfortunately, the beginning stages of gum disease are not painful and often go unnoticed.
Many people develop gum disease to a varying degree in early adulthood due to hormonal changes that may persist or recur frequently, depending on the health of one’s teeth and gums.
Gum or periodontal disease begins when the bacteria in plaque, the sticky colorless film that is constantly being formed on the teeth, causes the gums to be infected and swollen. If the plaque is not removed, it turns into a hard deposit called tartar that is trapped at the base of the tooth and irritates the gums.
The mildest form of periodontal disease is gingivitis. It often occurs when a person does not brush and floss his or her teeth adequately, or have them cleaned regularly by a dental hygienist. The symptoms of gingivitis are not usually painful.
• Bleeding gums, particularly when teeth are brushed;
• Bright red gums;
• Gums that are tender when touched but otherwise painless;
• Swollen gums;
• Shiny appearance to gums.
This form of gum disease is reversible with professional treatment and good oral care.
If left untreated, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis, which occurs when the plaque and bacterial infection grows below the gum line. Over time, the toxins produced by the bacteria stimulate an inflammatory response in the body, so that the tissues and bone that support the teeth are broken down and destroyed.
As the disease progresses, the gums separate from the teeth, the spaces between the teeth and gums deepen and eventually, more gum tissue and bone are destroyed.
The risk of periodontal disease is increased by:
• General illness;
• Poor dental hygiene;
• Pregnancy, due to hormonal changes that increase gum sensitivity;
• Uncontrolled diabetes;
• Misaligned teeth, rough edges of fillings, and ill-fitting braces, dentures, bridges or crowns;
• Certain medications, i.e. phenytoin, birth control pills, heavy metals.
The goal of treatment for periodontal disease is to reduce inflammation. The teeth are cleaned professionally by a dentist or dental hygienist to loosen and remove the plaque and hard tartar from the teeth.
To keep plaque build-up to a minimum, teeth should be cleaned at least twice a year and possibly more often. This is followed by a careful, daily oral hygiene regime. Antibacterial mouth rinses may be recommended, in addition to frequent tooth brushing and flossing.
Special tools such as certain toothpicks or floss, antiplaque toothbrushes and tooth paste, water irrigation or other devices may also be suggested by the dentist for people who are particularly prone to plaque deposits.
To prevent the reoccurrence of periodontal disease, strict oral hygiene must be maintained for a person’s whole life.
For more information about gum disease, visit the American Dental Association website at www.ada.org; or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov/OralHealth.