Have you been told you have gum disease? Maybe your dentist hasn’t told you but you think you might. Or maybe, you are like so many people who do not see their dentist regularly which means you probably do. You need to know about gum disease and treatment- and if you have it, now what?
Gum disease is an infection that affects the tissues and bone that support your teeth. It is also known as periodontal disease. Our teeth are meant to last a lifetime- and they can with proper care. Learning about gum disease and treatment will increase your chances of overcoming this unfortunate condition.
More than half of all people over age 18 have at least the early stage of gum disease. After age 35, 75% of all adults are affected by some form of this disease. This means that you or someone you know is most likely affected by this disease.
In this article, I will explain the causes of gum disease, stages and the connection between gum disease and other health issues. I am a dental hygienist and would like to help you improve the health of your teeth and gums. Please read more about me in the About the Author page. Also, you will learn how gum disease is found, risk factors, symptoms of this condition and what to do if you have it.
What Causes Gum Disease?
There are numerous types of bacteria that live in your mouth. While this is normal, it is possible for certain types of bacteria to outgrow the others. When this happens, the gum disease process begins.
It all starts with plaque. Plaque is a sticky, colorless film of bacteria that is constantly forming on our teeth. These bacteria create toxins which cause inflammation of the gums and break down the attachment of gum tissues to the teeth.
When plaque is not effectively removed from the tooth surface, it can harden into something called tartar. Tartar on your teeth make it harder for you to keep your teeth clean on your own. The tartar also acts as an area for bacteria to hang out and cause further problems.
The toxins given off by bacteria cause the gums to become red, puffy and swollen. When this happens, the gums can start to pull away from the teeth creating spaces called pockets. These pockets collect more bacteria and then gum disease gets worse.
What’s The Big Deal?
The mouth is a window into the health of the body. Ongoing research is showing that many systemic diseases are related to the health of our mouths. Diseases that affect the entire body may be first noticed because of oral problems or gum disease. According to a growing body of evidence, gum disease could play a role in many seemingly unrelated health problems.
Please refer to the American Academy of Periodontology for more details on gum disease. Not taking good care of our teeth and gums can lead to more than gum disease. Research has linked gum disease with many other diseases and health conditions.
These include but are not limited to: diabetes, stroke, heart disease, kidney disease, asthma, cancer, premature births, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease. Experts say that inflammation is probably the common denominator.
Gum disease, marked by inflammation may increase inflammation throughout the entire body. We now know that inflammation is an underlying problem in many of these other health conditions.
Although gum disease may contribute to these health problems, it’s important to know that just because two conditions occur at the same time, doesn’t necessarily mean that one condition caused the other. That is why researchers are studying what happens when gum disease is treated in people who have these health problems.
Types of Gum Disease
There are many forms of gum disease. The most common forms are gingivitis and adult periodontitis.
The earliest stage is gingivitis which affects only the gum tissue and not the supporting bone structure. This form of gum disease is reversible.
In gingivitis, the gums become tender, red, swollen and bleed easily. This happens when the toxins in plaque irritate the gums.
You may notice when you brush or floss that there is a pinkish color to the toothpaste you spit out into the sink. This is a sign that you have bleeding gums and is most often the first sign of gum disease you will notice.
Periodontitis is the more advanced stage of gum disease. At this stage, the gums, bone and supporting ligaments become damaged. Plaque spreads to your tooth roots under the gum line creating spaces between the tooth and gum called pockets.
In periodontitis, the pockets harbor more and more bacteria. An infection occurs which can damage the bone and fibers that hold teeth in place. At this stage, teeth may become noticeably loose.
In the advanced stage of periodontitis, the fibers and bone holding the teeth in place are destroyed to the point where the teeth may fall out or need to be extracted. This stage will cause your teeth to shift, loosen and affect the way your teeth come together when you bite.
How Do You Know if You Have Gum Disease?
It is important to have regular dental checkups and exams because it is not always easy to know if you have gum disease.
Visit your dentist if you notice any of these signs:
- Gums that bleed when you brush or floss
- Red, puffy, swollen or tender gums
- Gums that have pulled away from your teeth
- Loose or separating teeth
- Pus that appears between your teeth and gums
- Bad breath that is constant and will not go away
- Persistent bad taste in your mouth
- Changes in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
- A change in the fit of partial dentures
Other Factors Causing Gum Disease
Plaque is the main culprit causing gum disease. However, there are other factors you need to be aware of that may contribute to this condition:
- Smoking or chewing tobacco- these habits include chemical and physical irritants to the gums
- Systemic diseases such as diabetes, blood cell disorders or HIV infections and AIDS can lower the body’s resistance to infection, making gum disease worse
- Hormonal changes such as pregnancy, birth control or changes in hormone levels
- Certain medications such as calcium channel blockers, anti-epilepsy drugs, cancer therapy drugs or steroids
- Poor diet
- Crooked teeth, bad fillings or restorations can harbor bacteria causing the condition to progress
- Habits such as clenching or grinding teeth may increase the rate of supporting bone loss
While these things may contribute to periodontal diseases, they do not cause them. If one or more of these circumstances apply to you, you can still have good oral health by practicing good plaque control and following your dentist’s advice.
Preventing Gum Disease
Brushing thoroughly twice a day will help to remove the accumulation of bacterial plaque. Studies show that it only takes an average of twelve hours for bacterial plaque to start mineralizing from the minerals in your saliva.
If you are removing the bacteria every twelve hours (or twice daily) you will be ahead of the tartar formation process. The tartar on your teeth and below the gum line does not actually cause the gum disease but it acts as an area for the bacterial plaque to harbor. The bacteria give off inflammation causing toxins that irritate the gums. You can learn more about home treatment for gum disease in this article.
Floss every day or use some other means of removing plaque and food debris from between your teeth. A Waterpik (oral irrigator) can remove twice the amount of bacterial plaque from between teeth than flossing can.
Use a soft bristled toothbrush and remember to replace your brush every 3 months to keep the bristles in good shape. You can improve your cleaning capability by using an electric toothbrush versus a manual brush.
Using an electric toothbrush will give you up to 50,000 brush strokes per minute compared to only 500 brush strokes per minute with the average manual toothbrush. Combining an oral irrigator with an electric toothbrush will give you the best plaque removing device possible for your home care. Waterpik has designed a device called the Waterpik Sonic Fusion that allows for brushing and flossing your teeth at the same time.
Use a tongue cleaner or tongue scraper. Over time, debris, bacteria and dead cells can build up on the surface of the tongue. Bacteria give off a material called volatile sulfur compounds as a by-product. This can cause bad breath. By properly using a tongue cleaner on a daily basis, you can greatly improve your oral hygiene.
What Else Can Help Prevent Gum Disease?
Eat a balanced diet. Research indicates that proper nutrition makes mouth tissues more resistant to infection.
Supplementing with an oral probiotic will promote the proper microbiome (balance of good and bad bacteria) in the mouth promoting oral health.
Probiotics are mostly known for benefiting digestive health but now research shows they can keep your mouth healthy too.
Oral probiotics can prevent plaque, fight bad breath, manage symptoms of gum disease and decrease the inflammation caused by gum disease.
Supplementing with high quality (absorbable form) of curcumin will prevent and treat inflammation. We now know that inflammation is a key component in the breakdown and destruction of our gum tissues.
Our inflammatory response to the toxins in bacterial plaque needs to be controlled in order for gum disease to be controlled. When choosing a form of curcumin, it is important to use only a product that your body can use.
There are many forms of turmeric with curcumin on the market but you will essentially be wasting your money unless you purchase a product that your body can absorb. Terry Naturally has developed a product called CuraMed with superior absorption of curcumin.
When compared gram per gram, CuraMed’s curcumin delivers up to 500 times more curcumin to the bloodstream than turmeric. This company uses a patented curcumin called BCM-95 that is extracted from turmeric roots. This is a natural 100% curcumin product that remains in the bloodstream for 8-12 hours, far longer than any other form of curcumin.
Do not forget to schedule regular dental visits. It is essential to have regular professional dental cleanings to prevent periodontal diseases. Your hygienist or dentist can show you proper home care techniques for adequate plaque removal.
It is understandable that most people do not like to go to the dentist. However, without regular checkups, it is hard to know if you may have gum disease. If it is caught early, it is more likely to be treated and managed.
So please schedule regular visits with your dentist and hygienist. Maintenance visits are so much easier than only visiting when you have a toothache or other problem. By this time, it is often too late and extreme measures like extractions may be needed.
Along with good home care to eliminate plaque, being aware of the state of your gum health is one of the best ways to decrease your chances of gum disease.
Gum Disease and Treatment- If You Have It, Now What?
The method of treating periodontal diseases depends on the type of disease you have and how far it has progressed. The first plan of action is to have a thorough professional cleaning to remove plaque and tartar.
By removing the hardened tartar, it is less likely for the bacterial plaque to hide in the pockets of your gums and give off toxins. To aid in the healing process, a more thorough or deep cleaning may be needed.
This process may require local anesthetic or numbing of the tissues for added comfort. This process is called scaling and root planing. By doing this procedure, the roots are smoothed so bacterial plaque is less likely to attach allowing the gum tissue to heal.
Certain antimicrobial mouth rinses may be prescribed as well as antibiotics. However, research is ongoing whether these treatment options are beneficial to the healing process. Often times, these are used as an adjunct to other oral hygiene practices.
Periodontal or gum surgery may be required when the spaces or pockets between your teeth and gums progress. They may get so deep that you can no longer manage them with good home care and regular cleanings. Newer technology allows for lasers to perform periodontal surgery. This is a less invasive procedure with better outcomes and faster healing times.
Surgery is usually recommended for the advanced stages of gum disease to remove these pockets. If the pockets are allowed to remain, this invites infection and bone destruction. With surgery, the pockets and diseased tissue are removed and then sutured back into a new position that will be easier for you to keep clean.
Knowing what gum disease is and what causes it is the first step in helping to prevent it. With good habits and home care, the beginning stages can be reversed.
If it progresses, you do have options for treating it. In any treatment plan, emphasis needs to be placed on good oral hygiene to keep gum disease from progressing or recurring. Remember, you don’t need to take care of all of your teeth, only the ones you wish to keep!
Please leave a reply or a comment below and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have. To learn more keep reading related posts on oral health solutions!
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I’m actually really thankful for your site. I never thought I would be so happy about a dental site. 🙂 Anyway, I am definitely one of those people who never sees the dentist so your site was probably a life saver for me. Because I had no idea what gum disease was or if I had it. And like you said, if I never see my dentist, I probably have it. So thank you.
I definitely would encourage you to see your dentist. But also, I encourage you to take part in some of the home care options I have mentioned in this article. A big part of how my patients respond to gum disease treatment is the active part they play with their home care. As you can see, there are many things that a person can do on their own to improve their oral health outside of the dental office.
Thank you for this article. I have had two dental implants, numerous root canals, and several fillings thus far in my life as well as a bone graft from a failed root canal that got out of control. I have about $20,000.00 of OOP dental work in my mouth. And I am done. I learned a lot in this article like the benefits of brushing twice a day/every 12 hours. And I floss everyday after every meal. I used to own a Waterpik but don’t have it anymore. Guess who will be buying another one. The suggestions in this article are far more cost effective than going to the dentist to have work done on issues I can prevent myself.Thanks
I am thrilled that you were able to gain some insight into oral health from my article. Often, so much damage happens that could have been prevented in the first place. Best of luck to you going forward with your oral health. It sounds like you have some good solid home care habits already but I would definitely encourage you to replace your Waterpik. Oral irrigation is the best means of keeping your implants plaque free.
This is a very well written detailed, educating and informative article on gum disease. I have never heard of someone suffering from gum disease. Nevertheless, getting to read and know more about it, which has been the case for me reading this article, will be of great help to me and my loved ones.
Michelle Mussehl, RDH
Oftentimes, periodontal disease (gum disease) occurs without a person realizing it is happening. For many, the resulting bone loss will cause them to lose teeth they may have otherwise been able to keep. This is why it is very important to see your dental provider regularly. Your dentist and dental hygienist will help you to maintain the health of your teeth and gums. Thanks for commenting!