Knowledge is Power! Gum Disease Pt. 2
Welcome back to our three-part blog series, Knowledge is Power! Gum Disease.
Our goal with this series is simple: to help our patients in Long Meadow, MA (as well as the general public) understand the nature of gum disease, and to empower you to take preventive steps, including coming in for a cleaning, exam, or if necessary treatment for gum disease. This is the second of three posts; you can reach the first post in the series by clicking here. We discussed the role of plaque in gum disease: what plaque is, how it works, and how it causes gum disease. In this post, we’ll take a more in-depth view of the two types of gum disease, Gingivitis and Periodontitis. You’ll learn the symptoms to watch for, as well as how each type of gum disease causes problems in the body.
Gum disease is a very common and very serious oral health issue in the US. 64 million people suffer from some form of gum disease, and a large portion of those cases are undiagnosed. Despite the fact that gum disease is very prevalent, the symptoms can be difficult to notice early on before it gets worse. At that point, you’ll need special treatment from your dentist to address it. Gum disease can ruin your smile by causing your teeth to fall out, or even appear unattractively longer due to gum recession (more on that soon). Gum disease can be prevented with a combination of three things:
- Good Oral Hygiene Habits
- Regular Exams and Cleanings from Your Dentist
- Knowing the Symptoms and Risk Factors
Gum Disease: A Two Stage Assault
Gum disease is caused by plaque growing beneath the gum line where it sets off the inflammation response. The inflammation is the gum disease, not a specific bacteria.
Gum disease has two distinct types that work like stages: one develops into another, and each type has unique symptoms and characteristics.
The first stage is gingivitis. Most people have heard of gingivitis before, usually from mouthwash commercials. In those commercials, the voice-over actor makes gingivitis sound like it’s the absolute worst thing that can happen to your teeth; it isn’t, but gingivitis is serious. It’s also easily missed. In our last post, we discussed the inflammation response and how it works. Inflammation stays active in an area as long as your body detects an infection there. If it stays on too long, the inflammation will start to destroy healthy tissues. You’d think this would be easy to notice, but in many instances gingivitis causes no irritation or discomfort, even while the disease is advancing forward to periodontitis, the second and much more serious stage of gum disease.
Because you probably won’t feel gingivitis, it can be easy to ignore it. There are other signs and symptoms that you can watch for that will let you know if there is a problem.
- Swollen, red, or tender gums
- Gums that tend to bleed easily (when you brush your teeth or floss, you may see a slight reddish coloration on the bristles of the brush or on the floss)
Gingivitis isn’t something you want; however, its presence does let you know that you have a problem that will get worse the longer it is ignored. The symptoms of gingivitis can be reversed with improvements to your oral hygiene routine and regular visits to your dentist, at least twice a year.
Without making these changes, or by simply not being aware of the symptoms of gingivitis, your gum disease will develop into the much more serious type: periodontitis.
If you ignore your gum disease, periodontitis is the result. gingivitis occurs when bacteria (plaque) and tartar begin to make their way under the gum line. In periodontitis, the inflammation response has become chronic and destructive to the body. Chronic inflammation is essentially your immune system running out of control, and it destroys healthy tissue.
Periodontitis’s symptoms can sometimes be observed if you look carefully; you may notice for instance that your teeth appear to be “longer”. They aren’t, they only appear to be. What you’re seeing isn’t teeth that are growing but your gums receding. Periodontitis causes irritation to the gums (although you may not actually feel it), and your gums literally begin to pull away from your teeth to “get away” from the infection.
As your gums recede, they form pockets in the space between the gums and the teeth. Bacteria love these pockets and will fill them. As the pockets more infected, your inflammation response continues to destroy the tissue of the gums, making the pockets deeper and deeper, creating more room for bacteria. The cycle continues as inflammation begins to eat away at not only tissue, but the bones in your mouth. Your teeth stay where they are because oral tissues (like your gums) and bone hold them in place. Periodontitis destroys these. Eventually, your teeth will loosen and fall out (or they’ll need to be extracted).
How Periodontitis is Treated
Gingivitis can be reversed relatively easily: just do a better job of brushing, flossing, and rinsing, and get regular cleanings from your dentist (you may also make lifestyle changes as well to reduce your risk of developing it again; we’ll discuss that it in our next post).
Periodontitis happens when the plaque and tartar (dental calculus) make their way down the roots of the tooth and into the tissues and bone holding your teeth in place. The plaque and tartar must be removed using techniques called “scaling and root planing”: your dentist will use specialized tools (and not a little bit of elbow grease) to get rid of the build up on the surface of your teeth and the roots. The process also polishes the tooth surface to make it more difficult for bacteria to grow. Your dentist may also prescribe antibiotic treatment, in addition to counseling to get your oral hygiene routine on track (if you’ve reached this stage, you’ve been doing it wrong). Controlling Periodontitis can be even more intensive for some, as very advanced cases may require “pocket reduction surgery”, which is performed by an oral surgeon.
When It Comes to Gum Disease, There Is Such a Thing as TOO LATE!
The symptoms of gum disease need to be caught early and intervention should immediately follow. If you’re seeing the symptoms of Gingivitis, the time to act is NOW. It will develop into Periodontitis which can only be repaired through aggressive treatment and in some cases, surgery. If left completely unattended, gum disease will continue to destroy bone and tissue until your teeth fall out.
Keeping yourself free of gum disease and keep your natural smile! Remember, you only get one smile!