Periodontal disease, or gum disease, is the most common dental condition facing adults today. Gum disease affects around 30% of the population, and it is the primary cause of tooth loss in adults.
Due to the tooth loss involved, gum disease is one of the leading reasons our patients end up requiring dentures. Once you’ve been diagnosed, there is no cure for this disease, but you can control symptoms by taking a deliberate course of action.
Gum disease can progress silently. During the early stages of this disease, you may not experience any symptoms at all. Many patients are surprised to learn of the unnoticeable harm the disease has already caused.
Your gums and the bone beneath them provide a sturdy base to support your teeth. If they grow weak, they cannot properly support your teeth. At this point, the health of your whole mouth is at risk.
The severity of this condition may sound daunting, but we can come together to devise a solid course of action for treatment. Regular exams and cleanings paired with a solid dental home care routine prove crucial for diagnosing and managing gum disease.
What Causes Gum Disease?
As you may know, our bodies are home to many types of bacteria. The mouth is no exception. Both good and bad types of bacteria make the human mouth their home. If bad bacteria develop in the mouth, they can form plaque that sticks to your teeth and can eventually cause disease.
A dental care routine involving brushing and flossing can help remove plaque before it mineralizes. Once it has mineralized, it is known as tartar. Tartar draws in more bacteria at a rapid rate. This increases the rate that toxins are released into the gums. This spread of bacteria triggers your immune system, causing the gums to become inflamed.
Once the gums become inflamed, they will begin to bleed. This reaction is known as gingivitis. If left untreated at this stage, this condition will progress into a chronic infection.
Bacteria often penetrate deeper than the gums, causing the bone beneath them to begin wearing away. You may still be unaware of your condition at this stage, feeling only a small amount of tenderness if any. This is why frequent checkups are vital for catching gum disease early.
It is possible to lose up to half of the bone beneath your gums before noticing any pain or looseness in your teeth. This bone cannot grow back, so the loss is permanent and grows harder to manage as the disease progresses. Untreated gum disease can eventually lead to abscess and tooth loss.
We assess clinical data to come to each diagnosis of gum disease and pinpoint the level of severity.
The gum lining surrounding each tooth is usually two to three millimeters deep. This standard measurement allows the area to be easily cleaned and taken care of. When examining your mouth for gum disease, our team will measure several areas of your gums to make sure they fall within this standard measurement.
If your measurements exceed three millimeters and you are experiencing bleeding gums, we know you have some level of gum disease. The depth of the crevices is indicative of how much the disease has progressed.
In addition to these measurements, we will assess the shape and texture of your gums. Any movement in your teeth is also cause for concern.
We will then use digital x-rays to observe the density and shape of the bone surrounding your teeth. All of these observations are standard first steps for assessing the severity of this condition.
Once we come to a clear diagnosis of your condition, we can customize a treatment plan to meet your needs. If we catch your condition early, and you have not experienced bone loss, we may be able to control your gum disease in one or two treatment sessions. After that, we’ll give instructions for a thorough home care plan and monitor progress over time.
If your case is more advanced, chances are you have experienced significant bone loss. We will discuss your options and suggest a rigorous course of action at this time.
Before our treatment sessions, we may numb the area to aid in your comfort. We thoroughly clean your gums in sections, usually over the course of multiple visits. We use hand-held tools and ultrasonic instruments to deeply clean the infected area around each tooth. At this time, we eliminate any tartar to slow the growth of bacteria. We usually finish the initial treatment process by polishing the surfaces of your teeth to eliminate the plaque where bacteria commonly spread.
We can discuss useful tools such as medicated rinses, electric toothbrushes, Waterpiks, or other strategies to aid in your home care plan. Since gum disease cannot be cured, we must maintain a proactive plan for controlling your condition.
The Importance of Maintenance
Regular home care is vital in halting the damage of gum disease. Only a few hours after a thorough cleaning, the bacteria begin to return and spread once again.
If plaque is not removed, it will harden within 24 hours. Deeper crevices in the gums will require a more thorough cleaning to ensure that bacteria and plaque do not continue to spread.
Since this is difficult to achieve with a toothbrush, you’ll need to maintain continuous treatment with us to ensure the deepest clean. We recommend between two and four visits a year depending on the severity of your condition.
Despite our efforts, we may not be able to control your disease alone. We may refer you to a specialist known as a periodontist for further assessment.
The Mouth-Body Connection
The connection between oral health and the rest of your body may be surprising, but research continues to affirm this link. Research has connected gum disease with conditions in other parts of the body such as heart disease, stroke, arthritis, Alzheimer's, and various forms of cancer.
Bleeding gums provide access for bacteria to enter the bloodstream. When a significant amount of your tissue becomes exposed, infection and bacteria have free reign to enter a spread throughout the body. This is how oral bacteria can deposit in locations outside of the mouth.
Autoimmune disorders lower the body's ability to fight infection. Patients with a disease like diabetes may be at risk of developing gum disease at a faster rate.
Furthermore, oral inflammation has the potential to aggravate diabetes. This dynamic between two chronic diseases demonstrates just how important it is to be proactive about your dental health.