Understanding the Causes and Risks of Gum Disease
Almost half of all adults over 30 will experience some level of gum disease, or periodontitis, in their lifetime. Globally, it's estimated to affect nearly half of the world's population. The good news is, periodontitis has few long-term side effects if detected and treated early. However, if you ignore the signs of gum disease and fail to seek treatment, it can have severe implications, including tooth loss.
Here's what you should know about the causes and risks of gum disease.
What is Gum Disease?
Periodontitis is a serious infection in the gums. The build-up of plaque and tartar on your teeth, caused by poor dental hygiene, creates an environment where bad bacteria thrive. That bacteria, along with the "good" bacteria your immune system releases to fight them, will over time break down the connective tissue and bones that hold your teeth in place. Eventually, gum disease can lead to tooth loss.
Healthy gums feel firm and are snug around the teeth, while someone with gum disease will notice puffiness, tenderness, bleeding, bad breath, pus, loose teeth, tooth loss, discomfort when chewing, pockets around the teeth, and receding gums. If you have any of these symptoms, you might be suffering from gum disease.
Gum disease is easily diagnosed by a dentist or dental hygienist, and so is gum inflammation, which we call gingivitis. Gingivitis is a precursor to severe gum disease and is considered the mildest form of gum disease. Here's what you need to know about how gingivitis begins and how it can advance into periodontitis if not treated properly.
Causes of Gum Disease
The biggest cause of gum disease is not brushing and flossing often enough, which leads to the build-up of plaque. Plaque is a sticky film that contains bacteria and food particles. Brushing and flossing twice a day helps keep plaque at a minimum, but poor dental hygiene leads to the build-up of plaque (and the bacteria it contains), which leads to the gum inflammation and bleeding associated with gingivitis.
If you don't brush, floss, and rinse for some period of time, plaque starts to build up on the surface of your teeth, releasing acid that damages the outer shell known as enamel. This marks the beginning of tooth decay. In these early stages, plaque can be easily removed and gingivitis is easily reversible with consistent brushing and flossing. If left unchecked, however, gingivitis will begin to turn into periodontitis.
In just 72 hours, plaque begins to harden into tartar, which is a hard layer that will begin to grow along your gum line. Tartar makes it impossible to thoroughly clean your teeth and gums unless it is scraped away by a dentist. The build-up of plaque and tarter starts to worsen a person's dental hygiene, inflame the gums, and eventually pull the gum and bone away from the teeth.
With gum disease, pockets start to form between the teeth and gums, which opens the door to more plaque, tartar, and bacteria. As gum disease goes untreated, the bacteria release enzymes that break down the bone and tissue that hold your teeth in place. That's how gum disease leads to loose teeth and, eventually, tooth loss.
Reversing Gum Disease
Gingivitis and periodontitis are easily prevented with proper dental hygiene. Gingivitis is also easily reversible, so if you begin to notice some mild inflammation and bleeding, you probably just need to start brushing and flossing better. Check in with your dentist and they'll let you know if you're experiencing gingivitis and what you can do to treat it.
With that in mind, while gingivitis can often be reversed by merely improving dental hygiene, periodontitis is not so easily reversible. Treating periodontitis also requires improved dental hygiene, but brushing and flossing alone cannot remove the hard layers of tartar that begin to form at the gum line. Advanced gum disease will also cause pockets in the gums and these pockets must be cleaned out with special scaling tools.
If you think you have periodontitis, you should schedule an appointment. Your dentist can perform a deep cleaning of your teeth in order to clean the visible tooth surface and go below the gum line to clean out any pockets. For someone who has severe periodontitis that has led to the destruction of bone or soft tissue, or the loss of teeth, seeing an oral surgeon is the best option.
How an Oral Surgeon Can Treat Periodontitis
Periodontitis can lead to the destruction of soft tissue and bones that support the teeth, causing loose teeth and tooth loss. Tooth loss is irreversible, but modern dentistry allows oral surgeons to reconstruct a healthy smile using implants and other methods of restoration.
If you're suffering from periodontitis and it has led to the loss of soft tissue, bone, or teeth, an oral surgeon can help restore your healthy smile and your confidence. In our next article, we'll explore all of the methods and techniques used in oral surgery to successfully restore the smiles of those who have suffered from periodontitis.
At our clinic, we employ the latest technology and tools to speed recovery and restore oral health for patience experiencing periodontitis. If you have questions about gum disease or the best treatment path for you, contact Oral Surgery DC for more information.