Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is an infection of the gums surrounding your teeth. Gum disease is one of the top reasons for tooth loss in adults, and because it is virtually pain-free, many patients do not know they have the disease. During each regular checkup, your dentist will check for signs of periodontal disease by measuring the space between your teeth and gums. A good analogy to think about is an umbrella at the beach. The deeper the umbrella is the less likely it is to blow away in the wind. When the sand washes away the umbrella can blow away! In this analogy the sand is your bone and the umbrella is your tooth. If periodontal disease is causing bone loss it may not hurt but eventually your teeth will become loose and can be lost.
What causes gum disease?
Gum disease is caused by a buildup of plaque (a sticky form of bacteria that forms on the teeth). If the plaque is not removed (by flossing, brushing, and regular dental checkups), it will continue to build up and create toxins that can damage the gums. Periodontal disease forms just below the gum line and creates small pockets that separate the gums from the teeth. Periodontal disease has two stages: gingivitis and periodontitis.
- Gingivitis — This is the early stage of gum disease, when the gums become red and swollen, and bleed easily. At this stage, the disease is treatable and can usually be eliminated by daily brushing and flossing. Despite a common misconception healthy gums do not bleed!
- Periodontitis — If left untreated, gingivitis will advance into periodontitis, and the gums and bone that support the teeth will become seriously and irreversibly damaged. Gums infected with periodontitis can cause teeth to become loose, fall out, or be removed by a dentist to prevent more severe infections and abscesses.
Certain factors can increase a patient’s risk of developing periodontal disease, including:
- Smoking or using chewing tobacco
- Certain types of medication such as steroids, anti-epilepsy drugs, cancer therapy drugs, calcium channel blockers, and oral contraceptives
- Bridges that no longer fit properly
- Crooked teeth
- Old fillings
While it is possible to have periodontal disease and not know it, some symptoms can include:
- Gums that bleed easily
- Red, swollen, tender gums
- Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
- Persistent bad breath or bad taste
- Pus between your teeth and gums
- Permanent teeth that are loose or separating
- Any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
- Any change in the fit of partial dentures
Treating Gum Disease
Treatments for gum disease can vary depending on the severity of each individual case. Typical treatments from least to most severe include:
- Deep Cleanings (Scaling and Root Planing)
- Referral to periodontist for periodontal surgery and laser gum surgery
- Dental implants
Preventing Gum Disease
Regular dental checkups and periodontal examinations are important for maintaining your health and the health of your smile. You don’t have to lose teeth to periodontal disease, and by practicing good oral hygiene at home, you can significantly reduce your chances of ever getting gum disease. Remember to brush regularly, clean between your teeth, eat a balanced diet, and schedule regular dental visits to help keep your smile healthy. For patients with periodontal disease we frequently suggest seeing these patients three times a year instead of every 6 months. Preventing Gum Disease.
What is a deep cleaning? What can I expect?
Answer: This is a very common concern. Typically a deep cleaning will be recommended due to hard plaque or calculus buildup underneath the gums. To remove this it requires more time and to be numbed to ensure your comfort. This will typically require two visits (left side then right side) and last about an hour each. This will be completed by one of our amazing hygienists!
How often do I need to see a dentist?
Answer: It is very important that we see you at least twice a year minimum. For patients with periodontal disease we will recommend three times a year minimum. At each visit we will do an oral cancer screening, exam for other oral diseases, and look for any new cavities. We are as thorough as possible to ensure you remain as healthy as possible!