Periodontal disease or gum disease is the infection and subsequent inflammation of the tissues that hold the teeth together. The most common form of gum infection is Gingivitis that results in red and swollen gums. It occurs when food particles mixed with bacteria form plaque and stick to the surface of the teeth. If left uncleaned, this plaque can also form tartar that is extremely hard to remove. Once the bacteria affect the gums leading to gingivitis, it should be checked immediately. In the next stage, the infection spreads deeper, leading to periodontitis.
Apart from poor oral hygiene, there are other factors that can cause Gingivitis. These include diabetes, smoking, aging, genetics, systemic diseases and conditions, hormonal imbalances, stress, and certain medications. As the disease progresses, the pockets in the gum deepen and the bone that supports the teeth gets eroded. Note that Periodontal disease can lead to tooth loss and also increases the risk of heart and lung ailments.
Gum infection can occur in various forms and in some cases of HIV infection, malnutrition and immunosuppression can lead to the death of gum tissue or necrosis. However, it is important to know that not all cases of Gingivitis lead to Periodontitis and the infection is preventable. Some other symptoms of gum disease include persistent bad breath, the formation of pockets in the gum, and loose teeth.
Periodontal Treatment usually involves cleaning the pockets that are formed around the teeth and disinfecting them. The dentist employs various methods like checking the depth of the pockets, taking dental X-rays and a thorough examination of the teeth, to check the progress of the disease. Necessary steps to reduce swelling and check the spread of the infection are also taken. However, the treatment depends on the progress of the disease. In some advanced cases, surgery may be needed to clean and restore the tissues and bone around the tooth.
How Common is Periodontal Disease?
What Causes Periodontal Disease?
Plaque is the primary cause of gum disease. However, other factors can contribute to periodontal disease. These include:
- Hormonal changes, such as those occurring during pregnancy, puberty, menopause, and monthly menstruation, make gums more sensitive, which makes it easier for gingivitis to develop.
- Illnesses may affect the condition of your gums. This includes diseases such as cancer or HIV that interfere with the immune system. Because diabetes affects the body's ability to use blood sugar, patients with this disease are at higher risk of developing infections, including periodontal disease and cavities.
- Medications can affect oral health, because some lessen the flow of saliva, which has a protective effect on teeth and gums. Some drugs, such as the anticonvulsant medication Dilantin and the anti-angina drug Procardia and Adalat, can cause abnormal growth of gum tissue.
- Bad habits such as smoking make it harder for gum tissue to repair itself.
- Poor oral hygiene habits such as not brushing and flossing on a daily basis, make it easier for gingivitis to develop.
- Family history of dental disease can be a contributing factor for the development of gingivitis.
How Can Periodontal Disease Be Prevented?
Gingivitis can be reversed and the progression of gum disease can be stopped in nearly all cases when proper plaque control is practiced. Proper plaque control consists of professional cleanings at least twice a year and daily brushing and flossing. Brushing eliminates plaque from the surfaces of the teeth that can be reached; flossing removes food particles and plaque from in between the teeth and under the gum line. Antibacterial mouth rinses can reduce bacteria that cause plaque and gum disease, according to the American Dental Association.
Other health and lifestyle changes that will decrease the risk, severity, and speed of gum disease development include:
- Stop smoking. Tobacco use is a significant risk factor for development of periodontitis. Smokers are seven times more likely to get gum disease than nonsmokers, and smoking can lower the chances of success of some treatments.
- Reduce stress. Stress may make it difficult for your body's immune system to fight off infection.
- Maintain a well-balanced diet. Proper nutrition helps your immune system fight infection. Eating foods with antioxidant properties -- for example, those containing vitamin E ( vegetable oils, nuts, green leafy vegetables) and vitamin C (citrus fruits, broccoli, potatoes) -- can help your body repair damaged tissue.
- Avoid clenching and grinding your teeth. These actions may put excess force on the supporting tissues of the teeth and could increase the rate at which these tissues are destroyed.
Despite following good oral hygiene practices and making other healthy lifestyle choices, the American Academy of Periodontology says that up to 30% of Americans may be genetically susceptible to gum disease. And those who are genetically predisposed may be up to six times more likely to develop some form of gum disease. If anyone in your family has gum disease, it may mean that you are at greater risk, as well. If you are more susceptible to gum disease, your dentist or periodontist may recommend more frequent check-ups, cleanings, and treatments to better manage the condition.
How is Periodontal Disease Treated?
The goals of periodontal disease treatment are to promote reattachment of healthy gums to teeth; reduce swelling, the depth of pockets, and the risk of infection; and to stop disease progression. Treatment options depend on the stage of disease, how you may have responded to earlier treatments, and your overall health. Options range from nonsurgical therapies that control bacterial growth to surgery to restore supportive tissues. A full description of the various treatment options is provided in Gum Disease Treatments.
How can I get my gums healthy again?
Gum disease is preventable. Here are a few ways you can help keep your gums healthy:
- Floss - Floss at least once a day. This helps remove the plaque and food that’s beyond your toothbrush’s reach, according to the ADA. It doesn’t matter when you floss. Do it at night, do it in the morning, or do it after lunch... just do it!
- Get regular dental cleanings - Your dentist can detect early gum disease symptoms if you see them on a regular basis. That way symptoms can be treated before they become more serious. A professional cleaning is the only way to remove tartar. It can also get rid of any plaque you missed when brushing or flossing. If you have gingivitis, brushing, flossing, and regular dental cleanings can help reverse it.
- Quit smoking - Yet another reason for smokers to quit: Smoking is strongly associated with the onset of gum disease. Since smoking weakens your immune system, it also makes it harder to fight off a gum infection, say the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Trusted Source. Plus, smoking makes it more difficult for your gums to heal once they’ve been damaged.
- Brush twice a day - Brush your teeth after every meal. This helps remove the food and plaque trapped between your teeth and gums. Scrub your tongue too, since it can harbor bacteria. Your toothbrush should have soft bristles and fit in your mouth comfortably. Consider a battery-powered or electric toothbrush. These can help reduce gingivitis and plaque more than manual brushing. Swap toothbrushes or toothbrush heads every three to four months, or sooner if the bristles start to fray.
- Use fluoride toothpaste - As for toothpaste, store shelves are lined with brands that claim to reduce gingivitis, freshen breath, and whiten teeth. How do you know which one is best for healthy gums? Make sure to choose toothpaste that contains fluoride and has the ADA seal of acceptance. After that, the flavor and color is up to you!
- Use a therapeutic mouthwash - Usually available over the counter, therapeutic mouthwashes can help reduce plaque, prevent or reduce gingivitis, reduce the speed that tarter develops, or a combination of these benefits, according to the ADA. Plus: A rinse helps remove food particles and debris from your mouth, though it’s not a substitute for flossing or brushing. Look for the ADA seal, which means it’s been deemed effective and safe.