Gum disease – also known as periodontal disease and periodontitis – is an inflammatory condition affecting the tissues surrounding a tooth, and is the leading cause of tooth loss. Once it sets in, the toxins produced by the bacteria damage the teeth’s connective tissue and bone, effectively destroying them and fostering tooth loss.
Gingivitis is a bacterial infection of the tissues in the mouth and potential precursor of gum disease.
As a gum infection progresses, the bone tends to recede; the gums may or may not recede. In some cases, the root of the tooth becomes exposed, occasionally causing tooth sensitivity. Furthermore, pus may be produced, and pockets may form between the gum and tooth.
Since bone recession is not visible to the naked eye, and if left undetected, may contribute to tooth loss, it is important to visit your dentist for professional examinations and dental cleanings to identify gum disease.
Here are some common signs you and your dentist can look for:
Improper Dental Hygiene: If plaque is not removed through daily dental hygiene practices and regular professional dental cleanings, bacteria may set in and cause gingivitis, which may eventually result in gum disease.
Organic Changes in the Mouth: Changes that occur in metabolism and hormone levels during pregnancy, puberty and menopause may affect the organic balance in the mouth.
Medical Conditions: Serious conditions that affect the body’s ability to produce sugar (such as diabetes or kidney disease) may contribute to periodontal disease. Furthermore, the Center for Disease Control has found an association between certain illnesses (including diabetes, stroke and heart attack) and gum disease. Finally, medications used to treat medical conditions may produce the overgrowth of gums. Overgrown gums are more susceptible to bacteria, and therefore disease.
Saliva Flow Inhibitors: Certain medications that produce oral side effects or dry mouth syndrome (xerostomia) may contribute to a reduction of protective saliva flow, and potentially to gum disease. Seniors may be more susceptible to dry mouth syndrome because of the natural reduction of salivary flow associated with age.
Poor Functional Habits: Teeth grinding or clenching may impair the surrounding tissue and is a possible contributor to gingival issues.
There are a number of treatments available for gum disease sufferers, each of which varies depending on the severity of the condition.
In order to determine the treatment modality that best meets your needs, your dentist will evaluate the extent of the damage to develop a conservative initial plan. A dental hygiene evaluation will determine if plaque (soft deposits on the tooth) is being removed on a daily basis.
Next, calculus (also known as tartar) must be removed through a professional cleaning, and sometimes through the additional procedures of deep scaling and root planing. A local anesthetic may be administered during these procedures. Your dentist may also administer antibiotics to treat bacteria housed in the pocketed areas of the gum, and recommend a medicated mouthwash to be used as a regular part of your home regimen.
Pocket Elimination Surgery
In some cases, surgery may be part of the treatment plan to help prevent tooth loss resulting from gum disease. Here are some surgical options: