Gum disease, or periodontal disease, afflicts about 80 percent of American adults, and is the leading cause of tooth loss. According to research, gum disease increases the risk for other illnesses, as well, including heart attack, stroke, diabetes complications, low-weight births, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, respiratory problems, and more.
How Gum Disease Develops
Some of the bad bacteria in your mouth produce a sticky, smelly byproduct that we call plaque. If plaque is not removed in a timely manner, it hardens into tartar (or calculus) and irritates gum tissue, leading to bacterial infection. Bacteria continue to breed and begin to break down the connection between gums and teeth at the gum line. Periodontal pockets form, and bacteria infiltrate the area. Periodontal pockets provide the ideal environment–warm, moist, and dark–for bacteria to thrive and multiply. At this point gum disease proliferates, and inflammation caused by infection can infiltrate the blood stream resulting in more serious health problems. All the while bacteria continue to break down the bond between teeth and gums, teeth begin to loosen, gums recede, and bone tissue begins to decompose leading to tooth loss. The majority of adult tooth loss in the United States is a direct result of advanced gum disease, or periodontitis.
Avoiding Gum Disease and Periodontitis
So how can you avoid this dramatic and dangerous chain of events? First, always attend six-month checkups and cleanings. The early signs of gum disease are mild or nonexistent. Some people notice tenderness, redness, swelling, or bleeding when brushing teeth, while others see no preliminary warning signs. Your dentist or hygienist, however, can diagnose gum disease in its earliest stages and help you prevent advancement. If you have gum disease, a deep cleaning may be the first step toward healing.
A deep cleaning involves two primary procedures: scaling and root planing. We call the process of removing plaque and tartar from below the gum line scaling. Root planing is smoothing rough areas on the roots of your teeth where plaque and bacteria can build up. We may also place a topical antibiotic on infected gum tissue to help eliminate bacteria.
To treat advanced periodontitis effectively, surgery may be required. Therefore, in advanced cases, treatment by a periodontal specialist (periodontist) may be necessary.