Gum disease, or periodontal disease is a chronic inflammation and infection of the gums and surrounding tissue. It is the major cause of about 70 percent of adult tooth loss, affecting three out of four persons at some point in their life. Periodontal diseases include gingivitis and periodontitis.
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. 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 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 that 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 and spit tobacco users 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. Pregnant women experience elevated levels of hormones that cause the gums to react differently to the bacteria found in plaque, and in many cases can cause a condition known as "pregnancy gingivitis."
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, pus between the gum and tooth, persistent bad breath, a change in the way teeth fit together when the patient bites and a change in the fit of 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 of gum disease, most treatment involves a special cleaning called scaling and root planning, which removes plaque and tartar 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 – sometimes with the assistance of a laser – and removing the hardened plaque build-up and recontouring 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.
What is the role of the general dentist?
The general dentist usually detects gum disease and treats it in the early stages. Some general dentists have acquired additional expertise to treat more advanced conditions of the disease. 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.
How can I maintain treatment at home?
Sticking to a regular oral hygiene regimen is crucial for patients who want to sustain the results of periodontal therapy. Patients should visit the dentist every three to four months (or more, depending on the patient) for spot scaling and root planing and an overall exam. In between visits, they should brush at least twice a day, floss daily and brush their tongue. Manual soft nylon bristle brushes are the most dependable and least expensive. Electric brushes are also a good option, but don't reach any further into the pocket than manual brushes. Proxy brushes (small, narrow brushes) and other interdental cleaners are the best way to clean between the recesses in the teeth and should be used once a day. Wooden toothpicks and rubber tips should only be used if recommended by your dentist.