Fight Gum Disease with Periodontal Therapy
If you have been told you have periodontal (gum) disease, you’re not alone. Many adults in the U.S. have some form of the disease. Periodontal disease ranges from simple gum inflammation to a serious disease that results in major damage to the soft tissue and bone that support teeth. In the worst cases, teeth are lost.
Whether your gum disease is stopped, slowed, or gets worse depends a great deal on how well you care for your teeth and gums every day, from this point forward.
What causes gum disease?
Our mouths are full of bacteria. These bacteria, along with mucus and other particles, form a sticky, colorless “plaque” on teeth. Brushing and flossing helps get rid of plaque. Plaque that is not removed hardens and forms “tartar” that brushing doesn’t remove. Only a professional cleaning by one of our dental hygienists can remove tartar.
The longer plaque and tartar are on teeth, the more harmful they become. The bacteria cause inflammation of the gums that is called “gingivitis.” In gingivitis, the gums become red, swollen, and can bleed easily. Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that can usually be reversed with daily brushing and flossing, and regular cleaning by one of our dental hygienists. This form of gum disease does not include loss of bone and gum tissues that hold teeth in place.
When gingivitis is not treated, it advances to “periodontitis” (which means “inflammation around the tooth”). In periodontitis, gums pull away from the teeth and form spaces (called “pockets”) that become infected. The body’s immune system fights bacteria as the plaque spreads and grows below the gum line. Bacterial toxins and the body’s natural response to infection start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place. If not treated, the bones, gums, and tissue that support the teeth are destroyed. The teeth may eventually become loose and have to be removed.
- Smoking. Need another reason to quit smoking? Smoking is one of the most significant risk factors associated with the development of gum disease. Additionally, smoking lowers the chances for successful treatment.
- Hormonal changes in girls/women. These changes make gums more sensitive and make it easier for gingivitis to develop.
- Diabetes. People with diabetes are at higher risk for developing infections, including gum disease.
- Other illnesses. Diseases like cancer or AIDS and their treatments also negatively affect the health of gums.
- Medications. There are hundreds of prescription and over the counter medications that reduce the flow of saliva, which has a protective effect on the mouth. Without enough saliva, the mouth is vulnerable to infections such as gum disease. And some medicines cause abnormal overgrowth of gum tissue. This makes it difficult to keep teeth and gums clean.
- Genetic susceptibility. Some people are more prone to severe gum disease than others.
Who gets gum disease?
People usually don’t show signs of gum disease until they are in their 30s or 40s. Men are more likely to have gum disease than women. Although teenagers rarely develop periodontitis, they can develop gingivitis, the milder form of gum disease. Most commonly, gum disease develops when plaque is allowed to build up along and under the gum line.
How do I know if I have gum disease?
Symptoms of gum disease include:
- Bad breath that won’t go away
- Red or swollen gums
- Tender or bleeding gums
- Painful chewing
- Loose teeth
- Sensitive teeth
- Receding gums or longer appearing teeth
Any of these symptoms may be a sign of a serious problem, which we routinely check for you.
At your dental visit we will:
- Ask about your medical history to identify underlying conditions or risk factors (such as smoking) that may contribute to gum disease.
- Examine your gums and note any signs of inflammation.
- Use a tiny ruler called a “probe” to check for and measure gum tissue pockets. In a healthy mouth, the depth of these pockets is usually between 1 and 3 millimeters. This test for pocket depth is usually painless.
Our dentist or hygienist may also:
- Take an x-ray to see whether there is bone loss.
- Refer you to a periodontist. Periodontists are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of gum disease and may provide treatment options not offered by us.
How is gum disease treated?
The main goal of treatment is to control the infection. The number and types of treatment vary depending on the extent of the gum disease. Any type of treatment requires the patient to keep up good daily care at home. We may also suggest changing certain behaviors, such as quitting smoking, as a way to improve treatment outcomes.
Deep Cleaning (Scaling and Root Planing) and Laser Therapy
Our trained dental hygienists remove plaque through a deep-cleaning method called scaling and root planing. Scaling means scraping off the tartar from above and below the gum line. Root planing gets rid of rough spots on the tooth root where germs gather, and helps remove bacteria that contribute to the disease.
In some cases a laser may be used to remove plaque and tartar. This procedure can result in less bleeding, swelling, and discomfort compared to traditional deep cleaning methods. We have incorporated laser technology into our office to give you the best treatment possible, and hopefully, help patients avoid surgery.