Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is caused by a build-up of plaque and bacteria between the teeth and gums. When left untreated, the gums become infected and if gum disease progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult and painful to treat. Progressed cases of gum disease can also lead to tooth loss.
Symptoms of Gum Disease
Depending on the progression of the disease, symptoms of gum disease may include:
- Swollen and sore gums
- Red or inflamed gums
- Gums that bleed easily
- Gums that recede from the teeth
- Loose teeth
- Chronic bad breath
- Pain when chewing
Causes and Stages of Gum Disease
Gum disease is often caused by a buildup of plaque, a film composed of bacteria that coats the teeth after eating. Plaque that is not removed by brushing the teeth can eventually irritate the gums. When left untreated, gum disease can progress in the following two stages:
Gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease. At this stage the gums may be swollen, red and inflamed and may bleed easily. Gingivitis can usually be easily treated by a thorough cleaning by a dentist to remove plaque, and proper follow-up care. Patients that maintain proper oral hygiene at home can keep gums healthy and reduce bacteria build-up.
If left untreated, gingivitis transitions into periodontitis which is a more serious stage of gum disease. At this stage, the gums are extremely inflamed and start to pull away from the teeth. Teeth may begin to loosen due to bones and ligaments breaking down.
Periodontitis is a severe gum infection that can even cause systemic health problems. Harvard Health reports the connection between gum disease and heart disease can be caused by bacteria moving through blood vessels in the mouth and reaching other parts of the body.
As infected blood moves through the heart, this can lead to inflammation that may increase the risk of blood clots, heart attack, or stroke in some patients.
Treating periodontitis is important not only for your oral health but your entire wellbeing. Getting treatment as soon as possible can help prevent tooth decay and jaw bone loss.
Treatment of Gum Disease
A patient is normally referred to a periodontist to treat gum disease. Gum disease is treated based on the severity and progression of the disease.
In the early stages, routine dental cleanings and an improved at-home oral hygiene regimen may be enough to reverse gum disease. However, if the gum disease has progressed to more advanced stages, the following interventions may be warranted:
Treatment may include:
Scaling and Root Planning
A deep-cleaning method that removes bacteria from below the gum line and the tooth root. The roots of the teeth are smoothed and cleaned and plaque and bacteria are removed.
Antibiotics or antimicrobial medications may be used to fight infection and reduce the size of the gum pockets that have occurred because of the gum disease. As the infection subsides, swelling and inflammation are reduced.
If other methods of treatment are ineffective, flap surgery may be performed to lift away gum tissue so that it can be cleaned underneath. Gum or bone grafts may also be performed to help regenerate any bone or gum tissue that may have been damaged or lost due to periodontitis.
How Do I Know if I Have Gum Disease?
If you see "pink in the sink" when you brush or floss your teeth, you are showing the signs of inflammation or infection in your gums. You might suspect gum disease if you have chronic bad breath, if your gums look puffy, or even if your teeth tend to be more sensitive than they used to be. There are several subtle and not-so-subtle indications of this common oral infection. We encourage you to schedule an appointment with us at the first symptom that points to inflammation. If you see your dentist early on, you may be able to reverse the condition with a good cleaning and a boost to your daily oral hygiene.
Who Gets Gum Disease?
Anyone and everyone can get gum disease. We all have a wide variety of bacteria that live in the mouth and deposit acid onto the teeth and gums. These bacteria live in the mouth whether you have your natural teeth or not, so you can still get gum disease if you have full dentures. The good news about this condition is that, with adequate oral care, you can significantly reduce your risk of inflammation turning into an out-of-control infection.
Is Gum Disease Genetic?
Your genetic makeup is one of the factors that may influence your risk of developing gum disease. That said, it is not as significant as you might imagine. The primary reason that gum disease develops is that bacteria produce acid that sits on the gums and around teeth (even artificial teeth). This acid causes inflammation and weakening in the gingival tissue. If you brush your teeth morning and night and you floss your teeth once a day, you have a good deal of control over your gum health.
How Can I Help to Stop My Gum Disease from Getting Worse?
There are two things you can do to keep your gums in the best possible health. One is to brush and floss your teeth daily. When you brush, do it for two full minutes and use a gentle hand. Too much pressure from your toothbrush bristles can cause abrasions, tiny scratches on your gums. These abrasions could harbor bacteria, hastening the progression of gum disease. Next, in addition to brushing and flossing daily, schedule routine visits with your dentist. The recommendation for routine oral care is to have a full exam and cleaning performed every six months. During your visits, your dentist or hygienist will remove plaque and tartar that you may not be able to see in your mirror at home. They will polish your teeth and floss them, as well, and can discuss ways that you can promote healthy gums on a daily basis.
Can Gum Disease Cause Other Health Problems?
Yes. Gum disease is a condition that involves bacteria. These microorganisms can travel to many parts of the body if they enter the bloodstream, which isn't difficult to do. Multiple studies performed to better understand the health consequences of gum disease have shown that this oral condition may contribute to the development or worsening of a variety of potentially serious health conditions. These include Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular disease including stroke and heart attack, preterm labor, respiratory problems, diabetes, and more. Considering that gum disease is largely preventable and manageable, there is no reason to suffer the secondary effects of this condition.
Will My Insurance Cover My Gum Disease Treatment?
Most dental insurance carriers do cover at least a portion of the fees associated with gum disease treatment. To understand your benefits more fully, we suggest contacting your insurance company with your specific plan information. A representative should be able to provide you with a detailed outline of your coverage amounts.
Prevention of Gum Disease
Plaque is the most common cause of gum disease that can be prevented with proper dental hygiene. Other recommendations to prevent gum disease include:
- Don't smoke
- Eat a healthy diet
- Floss and brush teeth daily
- See a dentist regularly
It is important to see a dentist promptly if experiencing the signs of gum disease to prevent more serious complications from occurring.
Gum Disease FAQs
How Do I Tell If I Need Gum Surgery?
Surgical interventions are chosen based on the stage of gum disease a patient has. Typically, gum disease is only necessary for patients with periodontitis whose disease has destroyed gum tissue. Patients whose gum disease is not responsive to antibiotics may also need gum disease surgery to prevent further infection and bone less.
Does Gum Surgery Hurt?
Pain, swelling, and sensitivity are common after surgery, but you won’t feel anything during the procedure due to local anesthetic. Some patients may be sedated during their procedure to reduce their discomfort and ease anxiety. Following some simple post-operative care instructions will help you alleviate any pain you have after surgery, and side effects will resolve on their own within a week.
Can You Live a Long Life With Periodontitis?
Yes, but there is an increased risk of jaw bone loss, oral health complications, tooth decay, and even heart problems if you do not treat periodontitis. It’s always best to seek treatment and professional care if you have it. Even severe gum disease is highly treatable.
Do You Need More Tooth Cleanings With Gum Disease?
Patients are evaluated on a case-by-base basis. Some may benefit from more frequent professional dental cleanings to ensure that they do not accumulate more plaque buildup and bacteria that could lead to recurrent gum disease or tooth decay. We will personalize your treatment schedule and cleaning recommendations to suit your needs.