Gum Disease

Gum disease is an infection of the gums with oral bacteria, resulting in inflammation and irritation of the gum tissue. Most adults will suffer from gum disease at some point in their lives. In its early stages, it is easy to treat with basic oral hygiene practices, but as it worsens, it becomes harder to treat and may lead to more serious oral health problems, like loose and missing teeth. It’s therefore important to be on the lookout for signs of gum disease so that if they do appear, you can seek treatment as soon as possible. As with most oral health ailments, gum disease is easier to prevent than it is to treat.

Gum Disease Symptoms

Gum disease occurs in several stages. Early-stage gum disease is known as gingivitis, a term that simply means “inflammation of the gums.” Later-stage gum disease is known as “periodontitis,” a term that refers to inflammation of the periodontal ligaments, which are connective tissues that anchor your teeth into your jaw bone. The symptoms of gum disease start off rather minor, but become harder to overlook as the condition worsens. Here are the hallmark symptoms of both gingivitis and periodontitis.

Gingivitis Symptoms

Signs of early-stage gum disease include swelling, redness, and sensitivity in the gums. You may notice some bleeding after brushing or flossing. Your gums may also feel sore if you chew something overly tough or crunchy. Many patients with gingivitis have bad breath that does not go away with brushing, flossing, and the use of mouthwash.

Periodontitis Symptoms

As gum disease worsens, you may begin to notice pockets forming between your teeth and gums. Your teeth may start to feel like they are loose in their sockets. Bleeding will worsen, and it may look like your teeth are becoming longer as your gums recede, exposing a larger portion of the tooth roots. Most people with periodontitis notice that their teeth become very sensitive to heat, cold, and pressure. This is because the nerves in the tooth roots are closer to the surface, and when they are exposed by receding gums, they react strongly to stimuli.

Gum Disease Causes

There are hundreds of species of bacteria that live in your mouth, and most are harmless or even beneficial. A few, however, can cause gum disease if they become too prevalent. Treponema denticola and Porphyromonas gingivalis are the main culprits in most cases of gum disease. If you brush and floss thoroughly and regularly, you can remove these bacteria from your teeth and gums before they have a chance to cause a problem. However, when you grow lax with your dental hygiene, these bacteria proliferate, infecting your gum tissue and leading to the symptoms of gum disease. Once the bacteria work their way between your gums and your teeth, they become harder to remove.

Anyone can develop gum disease. It is seen in young children, teens, young adults, and older adults alike. However, some people are at an increased risk of gum diseases compared to others. Here are some of the most common risk factors for gum disease.

  • Smoking: Smoking dries out the mouth, which allows oral bacteria to proliferate, increasing the risk of gum disease.
  • Certain Medications: Antidepressants, steroids, and pain relievers sometimes reduce saliva production, which increases the risk of gum disease.
  • Diabetes: This disease decreases the body’s ability to fight off infections such as gum disease.
  • Hormonal Changes: Women are more likely to develop gum disease after menopause.
  • Advanced Age: Gum disease becomes more common as you age. This may be tied to an increased risk of dry mouth as you age, hormonal changes, or a lack of proper oral hygiene.

Process of Gum Disease Treatment

If you develop gum disease, it is very important to seek prompt treatment. Left untreated, gum disease can lead to missing teeth. Researchers have also discovered a link between gum disease and heart disease. It is though that the bacteria responsible for causing gum disease may enter the bloodstream and cause damage to the heart and blood vessels.

Non-Surgical Treatments

When gum disease is caught in the early stages, you can usually reverse it simply by improving your oral hygiene routine. Focus on brushing more thoroughly, using a soft toothbrush that won’t irritate your overly sensitive gums. Spend more time brushing along the gum line of your upper and lower jaw. Floss daily. If you have trouble using regular dental floss, use flossing picks, or talk to your dentist about buying a water flosser, which is a tool that shoots water between your teeth to remove plaque and bacteria. Also, rinse your mouth out with an antiseptic mouthwash twice a day to kill any lingering bacteria.

If the methods above to not alleviate your gingivitis symptoms within a week or two, your dentist may prescribe an antibiotic gel or cream you can apply to your gums daily. You should also have your teeth professionally cleaned by a dental hygienist. Only a professional cleaning can remove tartar, a hardened form of plaque that often forms along the gum line and can harbor bacteria, making gingivitis harder to treat. If your gum disease is serious, your dentist may use a more intensive cleaning process called scaling and planing. For this procedure, your mouth will be numbed to prevent discomfort. Special tools will be used to scrape plaque and tartar from beneath your gum line. Your gums may be a bit sore for a few days after the procedure, so you’ll want to stick to soft foods and brush gently until you heal.

Surgical Treatments

If you have pockets in your gums, loose teeth, receding gums, or other signs of periodontitis, your dentist will treat your gum disease more aggressively or refer you to a periodontist for one of these surgical approaches.

  • Flap Surgery: This is a procedure in which the extra gum tissue is cut away and the gums are re-stitched to get rid of any flaps. With the flaps gone, there are fewer places for oral bacteria to hide, so you’ll have an easier time fighting off gum disease with good oral hygiene and perhaps antibiotics.
  • Tissue Grafts: If the bacteria have begun to erode your gums, periodontal ligaments, or the bone tissue in your jaw, your dentist may need to perform a tissue graft to replace the missing or damaged tissue. Donor tissue may be obtained from the roof of your mouth and grafted where it is needed.
  • Guided Bone Tissue Regeneration: One problem that can occur when your body is trying to heal from gum disease is the gum tissue growing into space that should be occupied by bone tissue. To prevent this from occurring, your dentist may perform a procedure called guided bone tissue regeneration. A special piece of mesh is placed along the edge of your gum tissue to hold it in place and prevent it from growing into the bone space.
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