You have probably heard that gum disease is directly related to our overall health. Chronic gum inflammation is never healthy for anyone, but it can lead to further medical complications for people who are immunocompromised with issues such as diabetes or heart disease. There are two types of commonly recognized gum disease: gingivitis and periodontal disease. It is important to recognize early signs to address the condition and find appropriate treatment options.
Gum disease derives mainly from poor oral hygiene and the accumulation of plaque on teeth. Untreated, plaque and calculus accumulations will cause inflammation of the gums and deeper pockets filled with bacteria. Resulting bone and tissue loss will ultimately lead to tooth loss. Gum disease can range in severity, but many people will experience early symptoms of bleeding gums and inflammation. Other common symptoms that may indicate you have gum disease include:
• Swollen and red gums
• Bad breath
• Plaque build-up on teeth
• Shifting teeth
• Loose or missing teeth
• Gum recession
• Painful biting and chewing
Your dentist will diagnose gum disease through a clinical examination and dental X-rays. Your hygienist will also measure your gum pocket depths, which is an important indicator of bone loss. Deeper pocket depths (usually more than 4 mm) indicate periodontitis and require a more challenging dental treatment.
Treatments for gum disease depend on the severity of the issues with your dental health. Gingivitis can be managed at home by:
1. Brushing twice daily with a fluoridated toothpaste: It is important to brush your teeth, gums, and tongue with a soft-bristle toothbrush.
2. Flossing daily: Flossing helps remove food and plaque debris that are key components in causing tooth decay and gum disease.
3. A healthy diet: Eating and drinking a well-balanced diet is beneficial for your dental health and overall health. Drinking a lot of water and eating hard, crunchy vegetables will help keep your mouth hydrated.
If gingivitis progresses to periodontal disease, the condition is irreversible and is associated with bone and tissue loss, and often tooth loss. Fortunately, options exist to treat advanced periodontal disease and help maintain gum health.
1. Professional cleaning: Routine teeth cleanings by your dental professional will remove plaque, calculus, and food debris above and below the gumline to help prevent tooth decay and maintain optimal gum health. A cleaning is also educational because your hygienist can inform you of areas of your mouth that need improvement and any adjuncts to help maintain your dental health such as an oral irrigator or prescription toothpaste.
2. Scaling and root planing: This is a professional, deeper cleaning that is usually done with local anesthetic. Root surfaces below the gumline are cleaned of calculus and bacteria to reduce and eliminate as much inflammation as possible in the gum tissue. Smoothing the roots allows the gum tissue to properly attach to teeth and maintain stability.
3. Oral antibiotics: Antibacterial medication may be administered sub-gingivally to help control the inflammation and bacterial build-up.
4. Surgical treatment: Sometimes surgical treatment is necessary to maintain teeth and bone function. This may include bone and tissue grafts, or flap surgery to repair affected tissues. A bone graft will help recover lost bone and prevent teeth from shifting or becoming more mobile.
Excellent gum health is critical to your overall health, and periodontal maintenance helps you maintain your gingival health after your treatments are complete. The easiest way to prevent gum disease is to follow good oral hygiene habits. Brushing twice a day and flossing will ensure no food and plaque debris sits on teeth overnight. Visiting your dentist or periodontist regularly will determine how often you require dental cleanings and whether you need to take any other preventive measures.
Dr. Erica Anand is a pediatric dentist in private practice focused on preventative dentistry including SDF, SMART fillings, and myofunctional therapy. She also writes professionally in the dental industry, working with marketing and consulting firms.
Her extensive education includes treating children with special needs, dental phobias, and oral rehabilitation under general anesthesia. She maintains memberships of the American Dental Association, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and New York State Dental Association, and is an American Board of Pediatric Dentistry Candidate. Learn more about Dr. Erica Anand on her website.