WHAT IS GUM DISEASE?

Gum disease or periodontal disease, a chronic inflammation and infection of the gums and surrounding tissue, is the major cause of about 70 percent of adult tooth loss, affecting three out of four persons at some point in their life.

WHAT CAUSES GUM DISEASE?

Bacterial plaque – a sticky, colorless film that constantly forms on the teeth – is recognized as the primary cause of gum disease. Specific periodontal diseases may be associated with specific bacterial types.
If plaque isn’t removed each day by brushing and flossing, it hardens into a rough, porous substance called calculus (also known as tartar). Toxins (poisons) produced and released by bacteria in plaque irritate the gums. These toxins cause the breakdown of the fibers that hold the gums tightly to the teeth, creating periodontal pockets which fill with even more toxins and bacteria. As the disease progresses, pockets extend deeper and the bacteria moves down until the bone that holds the tooth in place is destroyed. The tooth eventually will fall out or require extraction.

ARE THERE OTHER FACTORS?

Yes. Genetics is also a factor, as are lifestyle choices. A diet low in nutrients can diminish the body’s ability to fight infection. Smokers    have more irritation to gum tissues than non-tobacco users, while stress can also affect the ability to ward off disease. Diseases that interfere with the body’s immune system, such as leukemia and AIDS, may worsen the condition of the gums. In patients with uncontrolled diabetes, where the body is more prone to infection, gum disease is more severe or harder to control.

WHAT ARE THE WARNING SIGNS OF GUM DISEASE?

Signs include red, swollen or tender gums, bleeding while brushing or flossing, gums that pull away from teeth, loose or separating teeth, puss between the gum and tooth, persistent bad breath, change in the way teeth fit together when the patient bites, and a change in the fit of partial dentures. While patients are advised to check for the warning signs, there might not be any discomfort until the disease has spread to a point where the tooth is unsalvageable. That’s why patients are advised to get frequent dental exams.

WHAT DOES PERIODONTAL TREATMENT INVOLVE?

In the early stages, most treatment involves scaling and root planing-removing plaque and calculus around the tooth and smoothing the root surfaces. Antibiotics or antimicrobials may be used to supplement the effects of scaling and root planing. In most cases of early gum disease, called gingivitis, scaling and root planing and proper daily cleaning achieve a satisfactory result. More advanced cases may require surgical treatment, which involves cutting the gums, and removing the hardened plaque build-up and re contouring the damaged bone. The procedure is also designed to smooth root surfaces and reposition the gum tissue so it will be easier to keep clean.

HOW DO YOU PREVENT GUM DISEASE?

Removing plaque through daily brushing, flossing and professional cleaning is the best way to minimize your risk. Your dentist can design a personalized program of home oral care to meet your needs.. Children also should be examined.

WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE DENTIST?

The dentist usually detects gum disease and treats it in the early stages. If the general dentist believes that the gum disease requires treatment by a specialist, the patient will be referred to a periodontist. The dentist and periodontist will work together to formulate a treatment plan for the patient.

IS MAINTENANCE IMPORTANT?

Sticking to a regular oral hygiene regimen is crucial for patients who want to sustain the results of therapy. These patients should visit the dentist every 3-4 months (or more, depending on the patient) for spot scaling and root planning and an overall exam. In between visits, they should brush at least twice a day, floss daily, and brush their tongue.  Proxy brushes (small, narrow brushes) are the best way to clean in between the recesses in the teeth, and should be used once a day.

WHAT SHOULD I BE CONCERNED ABOUT?

Researchers are finding possible links between periodontal infections and other diseases throughout the body. Current studies suggest that there may be a link between periodontal (gum) disease, heart disease and other health conditions. In fact, research suggests that gum disease may be a more serious risk factor for heart disease than hypertension, smoking, cholesterol, gender and age. New studies suggest that people who have gum disease seem to be at a higher risk for heart attacks, although no one is certain how this relationship works. Your oral health affects your overall health, but the studies that will find exactly why these problems are linked are still underway.

HOW CAN GUM DISEASE AFFECT MY OVERALL HEALTH?

The current theory is that bacteria present in infected gums can come loose and move throughout the body. The same bacteria that cause gum disease and irritate your gums might travel to your arteries. Researchers are unsure what causes the bacteria to become mobile, but it has been suggested that bacteria can be dislodged and enter the bloodstream during tasks as simple as brushing, flossing or even chewing.
Research shows that risk varies according to the level of gum infection. The worse the infection, the more likely the bacteria are to become blood-borne. Infected gums bleed, making it easier for bacteria to enter your bloodstream. If bacteria become dislodged, the bacteria enter through cuts or sores in your mouth and travel to other parts of the body through your bloodstream. Once bacteria reaches the arteries, they can irritate them in the same way that they irritate gum tissue. This could cause arterial plaque to accumulate in the arteries, which can cause hardening and block blood-flow. Compromised blood-flow to your heart can cause a heart attack. Also, arterial plaque can come loose and travel to other parts of the body. If blockage occurs in the brain, it can cause a stroke. Your best protection is to maintain a healthy mouth.

WHAT SHOULD I DO?

Keep your mouth healthy.See your dentist at least twice a year for periodic maintenance. Gum disease is a serious gum infection that should always be taken seriously. Although gum disease can often show few or no symptoms at all, watch for gums that are red and irritated, or gums that bleed easily. There are many new treatments available to control and help reverse gum disease.

Always remember that gum disease is caused by plaque build-up. Brush and floss regularly to remove plaque that you can’t see below the gum line and remember to schedule regular check-ups. If you remove the plaque, you minimize the chance for getting gum disease. If you have any questions about your oral health, ask your dentist.