You may be one of the millions of Americans affected by gum disease, and you may not even know it.
You may be wondering: How can millions of people have a disease and not know? While the term “disease” sounds dire, the gum condition typically starts with some redness and discomfort. In my years of dental practice, I’ve seen a lot of people who ignore gum soreness and tooth problems simply because they don’t realize that what’s happening in their own mouths is not normal.
So how do you know whether it’s time for you to have your gums checked? You may need to more clearly understand the disease.
Defining Gum Disease
Think of all the actions your mouth does. It eats, drinks, talks, kisses, plays instruments and many others. You rely on your mouth to enjoy foods, to share your thoughts, and to generally get you through your day. Your mouth is a huge part of your survival and everyday enjoyment.
Your mouth is more than just its uses, though. Gum disease refers to several different ailments that affect the areas around your teeth and your tooth structures themselves. This includes your gum tissues, the bones underlying your teeth and the ligaments that hold your teeth in their positions.
There are several factors that can increase your risk for gum disease, but these issues don’t necessarily cause it:
• Advanced age
• Other diseases that decrease your body’s immunity, such as leukemia, HIV/AIDS or chemotherapy
• Certain medications
• Substance abuse
• Hormonal changes, including those related to menopause or pregnancy
When gum disease attacks, it does more than just damage your teeth and gums. Research evidence has linked severe gum disease with cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes, as well as with preterm labor and low birth weights for the babies of affected pregnant women. If you suffer from diabetes, gum disease can make controlling it more difficult. You could also begin to experience respiratory problems, including asthma, as a result of this ailment. These are just a few of the reasons that preventing gum disease is so important.
Preventing Gum Disease Before It Happens
We think that gum disease begins with plaque build up on your teeth. Plaque is the sticky gunk that forms from mixing food with the normal saliva in your mouth. When you don’t brush and floss thoroughly and regularly, this plaque stays on your teeth, hardening under your gum line in as little as two or three days. That hardened plaque is called tartar.
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to get rid of tartar. Simple brushing and flossing doesn’t cut it; you’ll need professional dental cleaning in my office. If you don’t come in to have your teeth cleaned, that tartar remains on your teeth and irritates your gums and causes gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease. Further irritation and bacteria deposits develop into more severe forms of the disease that can lead to lost teeth and more expensive dental work.
Luckily, most of these issues are preventable and even reversible if you properly take care of your teeth and gums:
• Brush and floss your teeth at least twice every day, once in the morning and once before bed.
• Use an antibacterial mouth rinse to reduce bacteria.
• Visit my dental office twice a year for a professional cleaning and inspection.
• Stop smoking and using tobacco products that raise your risk for periodontitis.
• Reduce your stress levels that may make it more difficult for your immune system to fight off gum infection.
• Maintain a well-balanced diet that includes antioxidant-rich foods like green leafy vegetables to help your body repair damaged gum tissues.
• Try to avoid grinding or clenching your teeth, actions that place added stress on the supportive tissues around your teeth.
Like any other illness, stopping the disease before it starts is your best form of defense.
Knowing the Warning Signs of Gum Disease
Healthy gums look pale pink and firm, but they can still look pink even as the disease begins. There are different classes of gum disease, and as you progress to the more serious forms, your damage will become more severe. You are your own first line of defense! It’s important that you know what gum disease looks like in its earliest form so that you can get treatment right away.
Watch for the known warning signs that you are in the beginning stages of gum disease:
• Gums that are swollen around your teeth. Affected gums swell and protrude in all directions around the teeth that have plaque and tartar.
• Gums that are bright red or bruised-looking. The color is a result of the infection deep within the gums themselves. Healthy gums are light in color, but the deep or bright hue shows irritation.
• Receding gums that are pulling away from your teeth, causing your teeth to look longer or larger than usual. Not all gums swell with the disease. In fact, many people report that their gums actually pull back from the teeth, leaving the roots exposed and sensitive.
• New spaces between teeth that used to be pushed together. When your gums are swelling or retracting, your teeth are also likely to move, a sign that is often more immediately noticeable than gum changes.
• Pus-forming or oozing from between your teeth. Whether it is excessive bleeding or pus, liquids that come from your teeth and gums always indicate a problem.
• Loose adult teeth. Your permanent teeth shouldn’t be loose. If you’re experiencing movement or wiggling teeth, you should visit the office right away.
• A change in the fit of your teeth when you bite your jaw together. Even if your teeth only move a little, your bite may be affected, causing your teeth to fit together differently than in the past.
• An ongoing bad taste in your mouth, even if you haven’t eaten. The layers of plaque and tartar on your teeth can cause a long-standing unpleasant taste in your mouth.
• Constant sores in your mouth. Sores are another sign of infection, and being unable to get rid of them is a cause for concern.
• Bad breath that just doesn’t seem to go away. This is also typically caused by the buildup of old plaque and tartar on your teeth and tongue.
It’s always best to have any dental concern checked by a dentist. I would rather see one of my patients with perfectly healthy gums and reassure that person that everything is fine and worry-free than to discover periodontal gum disease after damage is already done.
Treating the Symptoms and Disease
Whether you’ve noticed the symptoms or my dental team at your appointment has discovered them, I am the best person to determine the level of your disease and the best treatment plan. When I have a patient with gum disease, I physically and visually evaluate the affected tissues to determine your overall dental health. I typically use x-rays as well to fully evaluate the underlying bone health.
Your treatment completely depends on your unique circumstances and the progression of your gum disease. From a high-powered in-office cleaning to the last resort of surgical intervention, we’ll find the right treatment program tailored to your mouth and your needs.
Even if you think that you’re already suffering from gum disease, there is still time to correct your issues. No matter the level of your damage, scheduling an appointment with my and my dental team is the crucial first step in saving your teeth and preventing the disease from becoming worse. With proper prevention, diagnosis and treatment procedures, your teeth can last a lifetime.