A dental issue that many are familiar with is gum disease. Its familiarity comes as no surprise given that reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that 50% of adults that are age 30 and over suffer from gum disease in one way or another. Caused by hardened plaque, gum disease is an infection of the tissues surrounding the teeth, which occurs when plaque is not removed properly and regularly.
Do I Have Gum Disease?
Many people assume that because they do not have cavities or underlying dental issues, they do not need to worry about a gum disease diagnosis. This assumption then leads them to believe that they do not have to adhere to regularly scheduled cleanings and visits to the dentist. If caught early, gum disease is reversible and is “not that serious.” However, if left untreated, gum disease can become a serious issue that affects much more than just your gums. If your gums bleed easily, appear red or swollen, or feel tender, you could be suffering from the earliest stage of gum disease, gingivitis.
Known as the earliest stage of gum disease, gingivitis is caused by a buildup of plaque at the gum line that results in gum inflammation. Daily flossing and brushing are sometimes not enough to rid the teeth of plaque, which is why it is important to see a dentist regularly for a teeth cleaning. A run-of-the-mill toothbrush is no match for hardened plaque. If you notice bleeding during flossing or brushing, gingivitis is likely the culprit. Fortunately, because this is the earliest stage, this is also the only stage that is reversible because the connective tissues and bone that hold the teeth in place have not yet been affected by gum disease.
Periodontitis is broken up into two levels: slight periodontal disease and moderate periodontal disease. Known as the second and third stages of gum disease, a periodontitis diagnosis means that the infection has spread beyond the gum line, has infiltrated the area under the gums, and has begun to destroy the supporting bone. Signs to watch out for include increased gum redness, the loosening or shifting of teeth, gum recession, bad breath that begins to worsen, and bleeding after bushing or flossing. This stage is typically painless which adds to its severity because patients may not seek treatment. Unfortunately, periodontitis does not just attack the gums and teeth. At this stage, infectious bacteria also enter the blood stream regularly, which puts stress on the immune system. Scaling and root planing are treatment options that provide a deep cleaning which helps with removing the deep bacteria deposits. If left untreated, periodontitis will progress to the final stage of gum disease, advanced periodontitis.
The final stage of gum disease, advanced periodontitis occurs when the infection deepens even more. At this stage, the disease goes from “silent” to noticeable and painful. 50% – 90% of bone loss occurs at this stage. Signs of advanced periodontitis include red, swollen, and oozing gums, sensitivity to cold, loose teeth, 7+mm-deep gum “pockets”, bad breath that is severe, and feeling pain when chewing food. When treating advanced periodontitis, periodontal laser therapy or periodontal surgery is needed. If not treated, advanced
periodontitis can lead to further gum recession, increased sensitivity to cold food or drinks, spacing between the teeth, further loosening of teeth, tooth loss (which then leads to needing dentures), and additional bacteria in the blood stream that can cause severe health issues.
Some are at a higher risk for gum disease than others. Those who suffer from diabetes should pay close attention to their gum line. Scheduling regular check-ups with your dentist is the best way to prevent gum disease and to catch gum disease early. Gum disease is responsible for 75% of tooth loss and sneaks up on many due to its painless and silent beginnings. In order to stay ahead of the disease, regular cleanings as well as daily brushing and flossing are encouraged. If you have been diagnosed with gum disease, however, it does not mean that you will lose your teeth. Following your dentist’s treatment plan can help keep gum disease under control and can keep it from progressing.