Get the Facts About Gum Disease
A year before one of my patients, whom we will call "Jane" to protect her privacy, came to my practice for a dental visit, she had faced a personal tragedy.
As advised by her psychiatrist, and with tremendous effort, she was slowly trying to get her life back. A dental check up was part of her path to healing.
During her visit, Jane tearfully explained to me that she had lost her first born because the baby had been premature and had very low birth weight. Since the tragedy, Jane had slipped into severe depression. She had slowly neglected herself and her daily routines.
When I questioned her about her dental health history, Jane said that she had not been to a dentist in many years, possibly since she was a child. She stated that some members of her family had lost their teeth early on and had dentures at a young age. She said her gums always bled easily and that she had always had persistent bad breath and bad taste in her mouth.
The past year had been the worst, and her oral hygiene practice had slackened tremendously. After a thorough dental examination, I diagnosed Jane with a type of periodontal, or gum disease, called periodontitis -- a bacterial infection in the supporting tissues that attach your teeth to the jaw bone.
Plaque, a sticky bio-film, constantly forms on the teeth and contains a lot of bacteria.
If left unremoved, these bacteria create toxins that can damage the gums. When plaque hardens, it forms tartar. Plaque or tartar that has not been removed causes gum disease.
While good oral hygiene practices such as brushing and flossing help get rid of plaque, only a professional cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist can remove tartar.
About Gum Disease
Gum disease has two stages, namely, gingivitis and periodontitis.
Gingivitis is a milder and reversible form that only affects the gums. Left untreated, gingivitis may lead to a more serious, destructive form called periodontitis.
A shallow crevice, called sulcus, is present between the tooth and the gums that surround it. Gum disease attacks just below the gum line in the sulcus and causes the attachment of the tooth and its supporting tissues to break down.
As the disease progresses and the damage to the tissues worsens, the sulcus deepens into pockets. During your dental visit, your dentist or dental hygienist will call out several numbers while measuring your pocket depth. These numbers indicate the severity of the pocket. The greater the number and deeper the pocket, the worse the disease.
Signs of Gum Disease
Gum disease, not tooth decay, is the primary cause of tooth loss in adults 35 and over.
It usually has tell-tale signs such as:
*red and swollen gums that bleed easily while tooth brushing
*gums that look pulled away from the teeth
*persistent bad breath, persistent bad taste
*permanent teeth that start to loosen or start moving
*presence of pus between your teeth and gums
*a change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
*a change in the fit of partial dentures
Gum disease can also be stealthy and come without any warning sign and at any age. In fact, up to 30% of the population may be genetically susceptible to gum disease. This is one of the reasons why regular dental check-ups and gum examinations are very important.
Gum disease is a serious oral infection and has a definite influence on your overall health.
Did You Know?
- Pregnant women with gum disease are more likely to have low birth weight babies or babies born too early. They are also at an increased risk of preeclampsia, a condition characterized by an abrupt rise in blood pressure.
In pregnancy, the hormonal changes increase the risk for developing gingivitis. When neglected, this progresses to periodontitis. If gum disease is pre-existing, then pregnancy increases the risk of it worsening.
- Gum disease has now been considered the sixth complication of diabetes. Since diabetics are more prone to contracting infections and take a longer time to heal, they are more susceptible to gum disease than the non-diabetics.
Severe gum disease can increase blood sugar. This puts diabetics at an increased risk for diabetic complications. Hence, it is very important that diabetics who have gum disease receive treatment to eliminate the gum disease.
- Gum disease has been directly connected to heart disease and stroke. People with gum disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease.
- Gum disease has also been linked to respiratory diseases and osteoporosis.
- Research has associated gum disease with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer, the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.
The treatment of gum disease at the dental office depends on its severity and how far it's progressed.
The great news is that you don’t have to lose your teeth or your health due to gum disease. Follow good oral hygiene at home by brushing and flossing. Maintain a balanced and healthy diet. Follow a healthy lifestyle. Make sure you schedule regular dental appointments for check up and cleaning.
Soon after her first visit to our office, Jane got treated for gum disease. She has since then worked very hard to keep her mouth healthy. Her due diligence and self-motivation have helped her recover emotionally and physically, follow a healthy lifestyle, and, keep her pearly whites for life.
Now, Jane makes sure her two healthy children are in the habit of brushing and flossing regularly. The gorgeous smiles on the two little faces whenever they come to our office for their routine check-ups and cleaning are something we have come to look forward to. These are the healthy joys that we live for!
Sources: American Dental Association, American Academy of Periodontology.