Imagine that you notice a sore forming on your arm. It starts out as just a red patch, but over time you see that your skin is getting thinner. The sore still doesn’t hurt, but now the area bleeds when you touch it, and you begin to see some of your bone showing through the hole that is forming in your skin. I suspect that most of us would be very alarmed by this situation and go to urgent care or the emergency room immediately. Yet, as dental professionals, we see patients almost every day who have chronic inflammation and infection in their gums, a condition known as periodontal disease that causes the loss of gum tissue and surrounding bone.Many of these patients either don’t know they have the condition or are in denial about the damage that is occurring in their body.
Most gum disease is caused by not brushing and flossing enough. If the teeth are not cleaned well, a bacterial plaque develops on the surface of teeth. This plaque can harden over time to form tartar, or calculus. The body’s immune system tries to attack the bacteria and film around the teeth. Unfortunately, this attack on the bacteria and calculus causes collateral damage to healthy tissue and begins to destroy the bone and gum tissue around teeth. The longer the bacteria-filled plaque and calculus stays on your teeth, the more damage occurs. Other factors in the development of gum disease are genetics, smoking, and diabetes.
Signs of gum disease include: bleeding gums; gums that are red, swollen, and puffy; bad breath that does not go away;pus between your teeth and gums; loosening teeth; and a change in the way your teeth fit together. Yet I once heard periodontal disease described as gently flowing river that picks up speed so slowly that without routine check-ups and cleanings, the patient doesn’t realize how bad the situation has gotten until they hear the waterfall of severe gum disease up ahead. By the time they hear the waterfall, it may be too late to change course to prevent falling over the edge, leaving the removal of all of a patient’s teeth as the only option.
Untreated gum disease can lead to the creation of food traps, loss of teeth, loose teeth, and even whole body issues like heart disease, diabetes, and premature births. Because some people have no warning signs of gum disease, it is very important that you see your dentist regularly so that your gum tissue health can be evaluated and any infections can be treated. If you are diagnosed with periodontal disease, your dental team will develop and discuss a customized treatment plan with you.
At home you can also follow these recommendations:
- Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes each time.
- Use floss or other between-the-teeth cleaners every day.
- Use a mouthrinse as recommended by your dentist.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Do not use tobacco products such as cigarettes, e-cigarettes, or chewing tobacco.
- If you have diabetes, continue to strive for good control of your glucose levels.