Nowadays, the majority of people are taking better care of their teeth than ever. But often, people only actually know the basics when it comes to dental care. We know that we should brush our teeth for two minutes in the morning and for two minutes before we go to bed. We know that we should use a good quality toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. We know that we should use floss or interdental cleaners to clean in between our teeth. Some of us like to finish up with a dentist approved mouthwash. But when it comes down to actual dental issues that we may face, few of us know the ins and outs of many conditions. Realistically, the more you know about dental concerns or dental conditions, the more you can do to avoid them and the more likely you are to notice and recognize symptoms early on. This means that you can tackle any occurring issues as quickly as possible and minimize damage to your dental health and wellbeing. For now, let’s focus on periodontal disease – perhaps more commonly known as “gum disease”.
What Is Periodontal / Gum Disease?
Let’s start out by getting to grips with the basics. Periodontitis (pronounced perry-oh-don-tie-tis) is a serious gum infection. It will generally damage the soft tissue in your mouth, however, left without treatment, it can also progress to damage the bone in your jaw that supports your teeth. As periodontal disease worsens, you can find that your teeth begin to loosen in their sockets, or can even completely come out. While periodontitis is extremely preventable, it is sadly extremely common. A recent CDC report found that a huge 47.2% of adults aged 30 years plus currently have some form of periodontal disease. It also found that instances of periodontal disease increase with age, with an astounding 70.1% of adult’s age 65 years plus experiencing periodontal disease.
Symptoms of Periodontal Disease
If you’re concerned that you may be suffering from periodontal gum disease, it’s a good idea to contact your dentist and make an appointment. They will be able to officially diagnose the condition and provide further treatment. Generally, periodontitis is diagnosed through the following symptoms:
● Swollen or puffy gums
● Bright red, dusky red or purple hued gums
● Tender gums
● Bleeding gums
● Bleeding while brushing
● Bleeding while flossing
● Bad breath
● The presence of pus between your teeth or gums
● Loose teeth
● Tooth loss
● Pain when chewing
● Spaces developing between your teeth
● A receding gum line
● A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
Causes of Periodontal Gum Disease
More often than not, periodontal gum disease is caused by the ongoing presence of plaque on your teeth. Plaque is a soft and sticky film that can build up on your teeth when the starches and sugars present in food interact with the natural bacteria that exist in your mouth. Plaque can quickly begin to host millions of bacteria, which can begin to cause gum disease if the plaque isn’t removed quickly enough. Generally, plaque can be removed by brushing properly with a fluoride toothpaste twice a day. However, it reforms quickly and can wreak damage if left to its own devices.
If plaque is left below your gum line for too long, it can harden into a substance called tartar or calculus. This stays on your teeth and is much more difficult to remove than plaque. Though it is hardened, it still contains millions of bacteria and the longer it is left around your gum line, the more damage it is likely to cause. Tartar requires professional dental cleaning (often referred to as “scaling”) to remove.
Both plaque and tartar can cause gingivitis. This is the mildest form of gum disease. This condition results in the irritation and inflammation of the gum tissue that lies around the base of your teeth (which is officially called “gingiva”). Fortunately, gingivitis can be reversed.
Periodontitis, on the other hand, is the result of ongoing gum inflammation. Eventually, pockets will form around your teeth, which go on to be further filled with even more bacteria. This results in deep infections that can also cause further issues, such as the complete loss of gum tissues and bone.
What to Expect During an Examination
If you do book an appointment to see your dentist in regards to potential periodontal disease, your dentist or hygienist will:
● Examine your gums
● Note any signs of inflammation
● Use a probe (a form of tiny ruler) to check for and measure any pockets that may have developed around your teeth
The depth of these pockets in a healthy mouth usually measures between 1 and 3 millimetres. If you have larger pockets, this may be a sign of gum disease. Your dentist may then ask you a few questions regarding your lifestyle and medical history to determine whether you have any risk factors that could be contributing to your gum disease. Common risk factors, for example, include smoking or diabetes. If your dentist is concerned that you may be at an advanced stage of periodontal disease, they may take an x-ray to see whether any bone loss has occurred. They may also refer you to a periodontist – an expert and specialist in the diagnosis and treatment of gum disease.
Avoiding Periodontal Gum Disease
As we have briefly highlighted earlier, periodontal gum disease is entirely avoidable. But what can you do to actively avoid it? Well, the main thing to do is to ensure that you clean your teeth properly and thoroughly. Make sure to also thoroughly and carefully floss between your teeth each day. There are, however, other factors besides poor oral hygiene that can put you at higher risk of periodontal gum disease too. These include:
● Chewing tobacco
● Recreational drug use
● Malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies
● Health conditions such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes and Crohn’s Disease
Chances are, you can make lifestyle changes to reduce risk factors listed above besides the last two points. Make sure to consult your doctor for help and guidance with making these changes to your life if you want to minimize your chances of developing periodontal gum disease. You should also make sure to visit your dentist once every six months to avoid periodontitis. Regular checkups will allow your dentist to identify early warning signs of the condition, allowing you to make necessary lifestyle changes sooner rather than later and help you to avoid experiences of periodontal disease as a result.
If you do have periodontal disease, the type of treatment you may receive will largely depend on how far the disease and infection has spread the severity or degree of the infection and other unique information related to you. However, we’ll highlight some of the most common paths of treatment below.
Non Surgical Treatments
If you are diagnosed with periodontal disease early on, you can generally have non-surgical treatments. These include:
● Scaling – as we briefly highlighted above, a dentist can scale tartar from around your gums and beneath your gums. Most often, dental instruments, lasers or ultrasonic devices are used to achieve this
● Root planing – if a dentist planes your teeth, they’ll make the surfaces of each tooth smooth. This will reduce further cases of tartar and bacteria becoming trapped in gaps or pockets. It also effectively removes bacterial byproducts, reducing inflammation
● Antibiotics – your dentist may prescribe you topical or oral antibiotics, which can help to fight the bacterial infection
If you already have significant periodontal disease, your dentist may have to carry out surgical treatments to reduce the infection. These procedures will generally be carried out by a periodontist.
● Flap surgery (pocket reduction surgery) – tiny incisions will be made to your gum, allowing your periodontist to lift a small section of your gum tissue back. This exposes the roots of your affected teeth, allowing your dentist to thoroughly scale and plane them as necessary. The gum will then be stitched back in place and left to recover.
● Soft tissue grafts – periodontal disease can cause your gums to recede. A periodontist can remove a small amount of tissue from the roof of your mouth and attach it to the affected area of gum, reducing further gum recession
● Bone grafting – if your periodontal disease is at a stage where bones have been damaged, a periodontist can perform a bone graft using small fragments of your own bones or synthetic bones. This will help to hold your tooth in place
● Guided tissue regeneration – this procedure helps to restore bone that has been destroyed by periodontal gum disease.
This may seem like a whole lot of information to take in. But it really is better to be as best informed as possible when it comes to preventing and treating common dental issues. Hopefully, some of this information will help you to achieve this!