gum diseaseGum Disease

Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is an infection of the gums surrounding your teeth. Gum disease is one of the top reasons for tooth loss in adults, and because it is virtually pain-free, many patients do not know they have the disease. During each regular checkup, your dentist will check for signs of periodontal disease by measuring the space between your teeth and gums.

What causes gum disease?

Gum disease is caused by a buildup of plaque (a sticky form of bacteria that forms on the teeth). If the plaque is not removed (by flossing, brushing, and regular dental checkups), it will continue to build up and create toxins that can damage the gums. Periodontal disease forms just below the gum line and creates small pockets that separate the gums from the teeth, leading to gum recession, loss of jawbone, and loose teeth.

periodontitisPeriodontal disease has two stages: 

  • Gingivitis — This is the early stage of gum disease when the gums become red and swollen and bleed easily. It is commonly associated with “pink in the sink” after brushing. At this stage, the disease is treatable and can usually be eliminated by daily brushing and flossing, as well as routine dental visits for examinations and cleanings to remove tartar buildup.
  • Periodontitis — If left untreated, gingivitis will advance into periodontitis, and the gums and bone that support the teeth will become seriously and irreversibly damaged. Gums infected with periodontitis can cause teeth to become loose, fall out, or be removed by a dentist. Once periodontitis starts, only professional dental treatments can stop it from progressing.

Both gingivitis and periodontitis are contagious – meaning if you have either, you can spread harmful bacteria to others by kissing and sharing of eating utensils or toothbrushes. Parents and caregivers can even spread oral bacteria to babies by kissing them on the mouth or “cleaning” their pacifier or bottle off with their own mouth. These are reasons why treating periodontal disease (or gingivitis) is important. It is not just affecting you.

Certain factors can increase a patient’s risk of developing periodontal disease, including:

  • Smoking or using chewing tobacco
  • Diabetes
  • Certain types of medication such as steroids, anti-epilepsy drugs, cancer therapy drugs, calcium channel blockers, and oral contraceptives
  • Bridges that no longer fit properly
  • Crooked teeth
  • Old fillings
  • Pregnancy or other changes in hormones

While it is possible to have periodontal disease and not know it, some symptoms can include:

  • Gums that bleed easily
  • Red, swollen, tender gums
  • Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
  • Persistent bad breath or bad taste
  • Pus between your teeth and gums
  • Permanent teeth that are loose or separating
  • Any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  • Any change in the fit of partial dentures

Treating gum disease

Treatments for gum disease can vary depending on the severity of each individual case.

Typical treatments include:

  • Non-surgical treatments such as at-home periodontal trays, and scaling and root planing (deep cleaning)
  • Periodontal surgery and laser gum surgery
  • Dental implants

It is important, however, to treat your gum disease.

Research shows that untreated periodontal disease can increase the risk of:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Alzheimer’s disease (cognitive decline)
  • Premature birth
  • Low birth rate in babies

Preventing gum disease

Regular dental checkups and periodontal examinations are important for maintaining your health and the health of your smile. You do not have to lose teeth to periodontal disease, and by practicing good oral hygiene at home you can significantly reduce your chances of ever getting gum disease. Remember to brush regularly, clean between your teeth, eat a balanced diet, and schedule regular dental visits to help keep your smile healthy.

For more information about periodontal disease, contact Triangle Periodontics by calling 919-782-9536 to schedule a consultation.

Triangle Periodontics welcomes patients of Apex, Cary, and Raleigh, North Carolina.