From the time we’re little kids, we’re told to take care of our teeth. As adults, we sometimes fail to follow our own advice, or heed warnings from our dentists, which can result in poor hygiene. It is estimated that 80% of adults have some form of periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease progresses in stages from inflammation of the gums to major damage to the soft tissue and bone that supports the teeth. In worst-case scenarios, teeth either have to be pulled or they fall out by themselves.
Periodontal disease is inflammation around the teeth. Periodontal disease starts from gingivitis being left untreated. Red and swollen gums that bleed easily when brushed define gingivitis. When the gums start to pull away from the teeth and form pockets that become infected, you have periodontal disease. Your body’s immune system fights off the bacteria, as the plaque and tartar spreads and starts to grow below the gum line. Your teeth will loosen and need to be removed as a result of your body’s enzymes and the bacterial toxins that fight the infection start to destroy and break down the bone and connective tissue that holds your teeth in place.
So what causes periodontal disease? Bacteria and mucus that live in our mouths form plaque on our teeth. When we fail to brush our teeth properly or on a regular basis, the plaque hardens and forms and tartar, which contains bacteria, that brushing and flossing doesn’t remove. Only your dentist or hygienist will be able to remove the tartar.
If you suspect that you have periodontal disease, contact your dentist right away. Other symptoms of periodontal disease include bad breath that won’t go away, red and/or swollen gums, painful chewing and loose or sensitive teeth. Before looking in your mouth, your dentist will take your medical history. They’ll want to know of any conditions or any other underlying factors that may have contributed to you having periodontal disease.
Some of these include diabetes, which offers a high risk of developing infections. Hormonal changes in both women and girls can make gums more sensitive, making it easier for gingivitis to develop. Some of the medications you take like heart medicines and antidepressants can affect your overall oral health, because they lessen the amount of saliva produced, which aids in protection of your teeth and gums. People that smoke lower their chances of success with some dental treatments.
Next, your dentist or hygienist will examine your gums and note any signs of inflammation around the teeth. They’ll use a probe that looks like a tiny ruler, to measure any periodontal pockets. Your dentist may want to take an x-ray to help them see if there is any bone loss.
Depending on the extent of the periodontal disease, the number of dental visits and types of treatment varies. Your hygienist will remove the plaque, by scaling, or scraping the tartar away from above and below the gum line. Your hygienist may also use root planing to rid the tooth of rough spots, where germs gather, and helping to remove the bacteria that contribute to the disease.
In extreme cases, your dentist may refer you to a periodontist, if surgery is necessary, even after having had a deep cleaning by your hygienist. A periodontist will perform flap surgery to either remove tartar deposits in deep pockets, or reduce the periodontal pocket, making it easier for both you and the hygienist to keep the area clean. Flap surgery involves lifting the gums back to remove the tartar. When done, the gums are sutured back into place.
Routine checkups and cleanings are vital to helping you maintain healthy teeth and gums. Though adults usually don’t’ show signs of gum disease until they are in their 30s and 40s, it’s important to start early with good oral hygiene. This means brushing your teeth twice a day, preferably with a fluoride-based toothpaste, along with daily flossing. You also need to eat a well balanced diet and avoid or stop smoking.