One of the largest oral health problems facing the United States today is periodontal disease (gum disease). The Centers for Disease Control estimate that half of adults aged 30 years and older have gum disease, either gingivitis or periodontitis. It is also the number one cause of tooth loss.
Gum disease is easily preventable, but it’s also easy to develop. Many factors beyond whether or not you maintain good oral hygiene (at least twice a day brushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash) play a role in determining your actual risk for developing gum disease.
Dores Dental recognizes that part of our job as dental health providers is to educate our patients (and all our neighbors in the Longmeadow, MA area) Knowledge is a powerful tool to aid in the prevention of common but serious oral health problems.
In this three-part blog series, we’re going to cover different aspects of periodontal disease (gum disease): the causes, how the disease works, the risk factors, and how your dentist can treat your gum disease.
Causes: Understanding Plaque’s Role in Gum Disease
Gum disease occurs because of an excess build up of plaque. You probably know plaque as the scuzzy-feeling “skin” that grows on the surface of the teeth. It’s a common misconception that plaque is nothing more than a form of grime: a residue that builds up when one’s oral hygiene is ignored.
Plaque is actually alive, and is composed of bacteria that live naturally in the human mouth. The bacteria are so numerous that they form what is called a biofilm: bacteria are crowded together so tightly that they stick together and form what you observe as a yellowish substance on the surface of your teeth. Your mouth is an ecosystem supporting many different kinds of bacteria. It can’t be eliminated entirely (and it shouldn’t be; oral bacteria are just part of having a mouth), but plaque must be regularly removed to control its growth to prevent periodontal disease and other issues from occurring.
Plaque isn’t two-dimensional; bacteria grow on top of one another as well, with each layer helping to make the environment (your mouth) more suitable for the bacteria to live in. The bacteria even talk to each other using a system of biological stimulations and responses called quorum sensing; it allows the bacteria to pass genetic information one another and keep the growth of plaque going in the “right direction” (at least as far as the bacteria are concerned!).
The plaque accumulates, layer upon layer. Without good oral hygiene habits and regular cleanings from your dentist, plaque will continue to build up, and it does so relatively quickly. In only 24 hours plaque becomes what is commonly called “tartar”, also known as dental calculus. Plaque is a soft substance that can be easily removed with brushing, flossing, and rinsing. Dental calculus on the other hand is very tough; in fact, it’s a harder substance than your bones! Once dental calculus is established, it provides an even better environment for oral bacteria to live in, causing more and more plaque to grow on your teeth. Because it is so hard, dental calculus can’t be removed with basic oral hygiene you do at home; your dentist must remove it using specialized tools.
The Inflammation Response and Your Gums
If the plaque and dental calculus go unaddressed for too long, eventually it will grow below the gum line. At this point, your immune system goes into action. Your body has a powerful tool to eliminate infections called the inflammation response; if you’ve ever had a bug bite or a splinter, you’ve seen inflammation doing its work. You can usually observe this as a feeling of heat, itching, or other irritation, swelling, and even in some instances loss of function in the inflammed area depending on the infection.
Multiple systems in the body come together to isolate, destroy the infection (by attracting antibodies), and to get rid of damaged or dead tissue in the infected area. Inflammation stays “on” as long as the infection is present. If it doesn’t successfully destroy the infection, inflammation becomes chronic; at this point, it begins to destroy healthy tissues that it isn’t supposed to. The symptoms of gum disease are the result, starting with gingivitis and progressing to periodontitis if nothing is done to stop it. Even worse,
Don’t Get “Burned” By Plaque and Tartar Build-Up!
Plaque can be regulated through vigilant maintenance of oral health at home and regular visits to your dentist for cleanings and exams. If it’s been a while since your last check-up or cleaning, or if you think you might even be seeing the beginning stages of gum disease, make an appointment with our practice today!
The whole Dores Dental team is looking forward to hearing from you. You can reach our office at 413-241-3995, or use our online appointment form to book your spot now!