Overview of Gum Disease

According to the CDC, 47.2% of adults aged 30 years and older have some form of gum disease (periodontal disease).

Periodontitis (per-e-o-don-TIE-tis),is a gum infection that seriously damages the soft tissue. Without treatment, this gum disease can destroy the bone that supports your teeth. Periodontitis can cause tooth loss and loose teeth.

Periodontitis is VERY common but largely preventable. Gum disease is typically the result of poor oral hygiene. Brushing at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily and getting regular dental checkups may improve your chances of successful treatment for periodontitis. Proper hygiene can also reduce your chance of developing it.

Warning Signs & Symptoms of Gum Disease

Healthy gums are pale pink and firm. Gums also fit snugly around teeth. Signs and symptoms of periodontitis can include:

  • Puffy or swollen gums
  • Bright or dusky red or purple gums
  • Tender or bleeding gums
  • Bad breath
  • Pink-tinged toothbrush after brushing
  • Spitting out blood when brushing or flossing your teeth
  • Pus or white spots between your teeth and gums
  • Loose teeth or loss of teeth
  • Pain when chewing
  • New spaces that develop between your teeth
  • Receding gums (gums that pull away from your teeth), which makes your teeth look longer than normal
  • A change in your bite (the way your teeth fit together when you bite down).

When to Talk to Your Dentist

Follow your dentist’s recommendations and schedule for regular checkups. If you notice any symptoms of periodontitis or gum disease, make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. The earlier you seek care, the better your chances of reversing damage from periodontal disease.

Risk factors of Gum Disease

Gum disease: Facts and symptoms

Certain factors increase the risk for periodontal disease:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Stress
  • Heredity
  • Crooked teeth
  • Underlying immuno-deficiencies—e.g., AIDS
  • Fillings that have become defective
  • Taking medications that cause dry mouth
  • Bridges that no longer fit properly
  • Female hormonal changes, such as with pregnancy or the use of oral contraceptives

Causes of Gum Disease

In most cases, the development of periodontal disease starts with plaque buildup. Plaque is a sticky film composed mainly of bacteria that sticks to your teeth. If left untreated, here’s how plaque can eventually advance to gum disease:

  • Plaque forms on your Teeth
    • Plaque forms when sugars and starches in food interact with bacteria normally found in your mouth.
    • Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day REMOVES plaque, but plaque re-forms quickly.
  • Plaque can harden under your gum line and turns into tartar (calculus)
    • This happens if the plaque stays on your teeth and does not get brushed off regularly. Tartar is much more difficult to remove and it’s filled with bacteria. The longer tartar and plaque remain on your teeth, the more damage they can do to your oral health. Brushing and flossing will NOT get rid of tartar — you need a professional dental cleaning to be able to remove it.
  • Plaque can cause Gingivitis
    • Gingivitis is the mildest form of gum disease. It causes irritation and inflammation in your gum tissue around the base of your teeth (gingiva). Gingivitis may be reversed with professional treatment and good home oral care.
  • Gum inflammation can cause Periodontal Disease
    • Ongoing inflammation can eventually cause pockets to develop between your gums and teeth that fill with bacteria, plaque, and tartar. Over time, pockets become deeper and fill with more bacteria. If this goes untreated, these deep infections can cause tissue and bone loss. Which ultimately may cause you to lose one or more teeth. Ongoing chronic inflammation can strain on your immune system.

Prevention

The best way to prevent periodontal disease is to follow good oral hygiene, one that you begin early and practice consistently throughout life.

  • Good oral hygiene.
    • Brushing your teeth for two minutes at least twice daily — morning when you wake up and evening before bed — as well as flossing at least once a day. Flossing BEFORE you brush helps loosen food particles and bacteria. Excellent oral hygiene helps prevent the development of bacteria around your teeth that causes periodontal disease.
  • Regular visits to the dentist.
    • You must see your dentist or dental hygienist regularly for cleanings, usually every three, six, to 12 months depending on your doctor’s recommendation. If you have risk factors that increase your chance of developing gum disease— such as smoking, taking certain medications or dry mouth — you may need to see the hygienist more often.

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