What is Gum Disease
To understand gum disease, otherwise known as periodontal disease, it helps to understand the relationship between your teeth and your gums. Your gums, the pink area above your teeth are known as the gingiva. The gingiva is part of the support system for your teeth. Within your gums is the socket for your teeth. The roots of your teeth are embedded in the bone and are anchored by periodontal ligaments. Between your teeth and your gums is a V-shaped gap called the sulcus.
When you get an infection in the gums, the sulcus can shrink. This causes your teeth and your gums to separate. This separation invites bacteria to gather, inflammation to start and eventual infection of the tissue, resulting in gum disease. Gum infections are referred to as gingivitis if they only infect the gums. As the infection worsens, it spreads. When it spreads, it can also infect the connecting tissue and the bone support. This spread of infection is called periodontitis.
Periodontitis, left untreated, causes complications that can affect not only your teeth and gums, but can lead to bone loss and possibly tooth mobility, and furthermore, it can affect other areas of your body. Usually it is painless, so you don’t notice it.
The cause of this inflammation and infection is plaque. All inflammation is bad. Plaque is a bacterial film that is on your teeth left by the food you eat and the liquids you drink. When you brush and floss your teeth this plaque is removed, which is why it’s important to brush after every meal, or at minimum nightly.
Even though you don’t feel pain, there are signs that you will notice that indicate you have gum disease. Your gums may bleed easily; when you brush your teeth or eat. The gums may be red and swollen or very tender to the touch. You could have persistent bad breath or you may have a bad taste in your mouth that you can’t identify. You could notice that your bite is different, for example, your teeth may not seem to fit together correctly. You may notice that your teeth have pulled away from your gums, they may look longer or you may feel your teeth are loose or shifting. If you have partial dentures, you may notice that the partials no longer feel comfortable or don’t fit correctly.
What Causes Gum Disease?
Gum disease is caused by any number of factors, but poor oral hygiene habits, irregular check ups, smoking, pregnancy, diabetes, certain prescription drugs and some illnesses are some of the most common causes. If you notice any of these symptoms, it is best to see your dentist sooner rather than later. When caught early, gum disease is easily treated with minimum damage or discomfort to your mouth.
If you have gingivitis, you are in the early stage of gum disease and this is good news for you. Getting treatment at this stage means that you will avoid the more serious consequences of gum disease and it is reversible. The symptoms of gingivitis are red, swollen gums that easily bleed. A professional cleaning and strict attention by you with daily brushing and flossing can reverse this early warning sign.
If you ignore the early warning signs and wait until you have full-blown periodontitis, you have reached the advanced stages of gum disease. If at this point you do nothing, you risk bone and tissue loss which only gets worse over time. Your teeth could start to deteriorate, decay or even break. You may even notice that your teeth are loose in your mouth. Once advanced, your teeth may even start to fall out.
Advanced, or aggressive periodontal disease, is extremely destructive. Though you may appear healthy, your teeth and gums and their underlying structures are not. You may rapidly lose tissue and bone in some areas or all areas of your mouth. This loss of bone density can cause your teeth to loosen and most likely require your teeth to be removed to decrease risk of infection.
As this disease advances, your appearance may change due to changes in the structure of your jaw. You may appear older than your years and the shape of your face may change as well. The ultimate end result is that you will most certainly lose some, if not all your teeth depending on how far the disease has progressed.
Periodontal Disease Prevention
The good news is this is one disease you can easily prevent. Having regular dental checkups with your dentist is a good way to start. Your dentist may recommend that you have periodic periodontal exams as well, particularly if you are an at-risk patient, such as a smoker or diabetic. If you do have periodontal disease, your dentist can create a treatment plan for you that will help arrest the disease. Most important is having a good dental routine of brushing and flossing that you follow daily.