Understanding Gum Disease

Nearly half of American adults have periodontal disease. Learn more about gum disease, its symptoms and how it's treated.

We’re all told that good daily dental hygiene goes a long ways towards preventing tooth decay, such as cavities, and gum disease.  This is actually true, it really does help. But what exactly is gum disease?

Gum Disease
Gum disease, often referred to as periodontal disease, is an infection of the gums that surround your teeth. This disease is not to be taken lightly, as it’s one of the biggest causes for tooth loss in adults. Why? Because gum disease is generally pain-free and most people don’t even know they have it. Fortunately, during your regular dental exams, our dentists and staff will check for any signs of gum disease by measuring the space between your teeth and gums.

why we should still flossHow Gum Disease Starts
Plaque is a sticky form of bacteria that forms on your teeth and it’s a big contributor to gum disease. As plaque builds up and remains on your teeth, it hardens and forms tarter, which can occur on your teeth, as well as on or below the gum line. And tarter also provides plaque with more surface area to stick to and grow, which perpetrates the toxins that damage your gums.  When the disease forms just under the gum line, it can slowly build small pockets that begin separating the gums from the teeth.

Here are the two stages of gum disease:

Gingivitis – If your gums are red and swollen and tend to bleed easily (when you floss, etc.), this is a sign of gingivitis, which is an early stage of gum disease.  If you’re diagnosed with gingivitis, there is some good news. This stage is generally treatable and it can be cured by maintaining good daily tooth brushing and flossing techniques.

Periodontitis – When gingivitis is left untreated it advances into periodontitis, which can seriously affect the gums and bone that support your teeth. Periodontitis can lead to teeth becoming loose, falling out or needing to be removed. (Luckily, we don’t need to get to this level!)

What Factors Increase Your Risk?
There are certain factors that may increase your risk for developing gum disease. These can include the following:

  • Smoking (or chewing tobacco)
  • Diabetes
  • Certain Medications – steroids, cancer therapy or anti-epilepsy drugs.
  • Bridges that no longer fit properly
  • Crooked Teeth
  • Old Fillings
  • Pregnancy

Symptoms
Even though you may have gum disease and not know you have it, there are some symptoms that you can be aware of. These include the following:

  • Gums that easily bleed.
  • Tender, red and swollen gums.
  • Having persistent bad breath or noticing a bad taste.
  • Noticing that some of your permanent teeth may be loose or are separating.
  • When you bite, you notice there’s a change in how your teeth fit together.

Treating Gum Disease
If you have gum disease, treating it will depend on the severity of your particular situation. Here are a few treatment options:

  • Deep teeth cleaning – This is a more vigorous form of teeth cleaning that may include scaling, which removes tartar from above and below the gum line, as well as root planning, which smoothes any rough spots on the tooth’s root surfaces and removes any diseased deposits. Cleaning and smoothing the root area helps heal the gums, while making it more difficult for plaque to find areas from which to grow.
  • Antibiotic medications, such as Arestin TM, can be placed in the infected gums around your teeth. These antibiotics treat the bacteria that causes gum disease and can help promote healing and pocket reduction after scaling and root planning.
  • Periodontal surgery and laser gum surgery
  • Dental Implants

Keeping Gum Disease Away!
There’s no reason to lose a tooth to gum disease. In fact, there’s plenty you can do to reduce your risk of ever getting this disease. Stay on top of your routine dental check-ups, which include periodontal exams, are vital for the health of your gums, your teeth and your overall health.  And practice good dental hygiene at home by brushing twice a day and flossing.

If it’s been a while since your last dental exam, or you’re concerned that you may have some symptoms similar to gum disease, please call (206) 524-1000 to schedule your appointment