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Gum Disease: What You Should Know

August 13, 2018

If you have gum disease, you’re not alone. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, almost nine percent of adults suffer some form of gum disease.

Gum disease is the result of bacteria in your mouth that combines with mucus and particles to form plaque. If you’re not taking proper care of your teeth and gums, including regular visits to a dentist or dental hygienist, that plaque turns into tartar and can lead to a breakdown in bone and tissue.

Types of Gum Disease

1. Gingivitis: If your gums look redder than usual, they're swollen, and bleed when you brush, you may have gingivitis. One warning: Pain and discomfort may not accompany the other symptoms.

2. Periodontitis: This is a more advanced stage of gum disease, and your gums may pull away from teeth, leaving pockets prone to infection. Your body fights that infection, and that process causes the bone and connective tissue to deteriorate. The end result is loose teeth that may need to be removed.

Causes of Gum Disease

The American Academy of Periodontology says that these risk factors may put you at higher risk for gingivitis:

  • Diabetes: Is sometimes considered a complication of periodontal disease.
  • Smoking: Using any type of tobacco product is considered a significant risk factor for development and progression of periodontal disease.
  • Stress: Science has shown stress simply makes fighting infection harder.
  • Inadequate nutrition: A review in a 2013 issue of the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research confirms that lack of nutrition affects oral health.
  • Hormonal fluctuations related to puberty: Increased hormone levels increases circulation to the gums causing heightened sensitivity and the potential for gums to swell and become tender.
  • Pregnancy: "Pregnancy gingivitis" occurs during pregnancy when there is a decline in periodontal health. This paper was published in 2015, in Mediators of Inflammation.
  • Substance abuse: Dental patients with these disorders have more tooth decay and periodontal disease than the general population, according to a 2017 report from the Society for the Study of Addiction.
  • HIV infection: A number of studies confirm a strong association between HIV infection and periodontal disease.
  • Certain medications: The National Institutes of Health says hundreds of prescription and over–the-counter medications can reduce the flow of saliva, which has a protective effect on the mouth. Without enough saliva, the mouth is vulnerable to infection.
  • Systemic diseases and conditions: An early study in Odontology cites an association between periodontal disease and systemic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, adverse pregnancy outcomes and osteoporosis.
  • Aging: A 2012 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found 70.1 percent of adults 65+ have periodontal disease.
Treatments for Gum Disease

Below are the most common measures to prevent and treat periodontitis.

1. Scaling and root planing:

  • Your dentist or dental hygienist will scrape plaque and tartar off your teeth and out of periodontal pockets. Your dentist will also smooth any rough spots on roots. Some dentists use a laser, which can cause less bleeding and discomfort than traditional procedures.

2. Medications:

  • Prescription antimicrobial mouth rinse to control bacteria
  • Antiseptic chip, antibiotic gel or antibiotic microspheres to control bacteria and reduce the size of periodontal pockets
  • Enzyme suppressant to prevent the body's enzymes from breaking down gum tissue
  • Oral antibiotics to control a periodontal infection

3. Surgery:

  • Flap surgery: Gums are lifted back, tartar removed, and gums are then sutured back into place, close to the tooth.
  • Bone and tissue grafts: Your dentist places natural or synthetic bone where you've lost bone. Tissue regeneration involves putting a mesh material in the space between bone and gum tissue to promote proper bone regrowth. A soft tissue graft uses a synthetic material or your own mouth tissue to apply over the roots that may be exposed.
Preventing Gum Disease

It's much easier to prevent gum disease in the first place, and to get into a routine that's good for your mouth and your whole body. Here's how to do that.

  • Practice proper dental care at home: Brush and floss twice daily.
  • Use a fluoride toothpaste, and if your dentist advises, a fluoride mouthwash.
  • Eat a healthy balanced diet. Try to avoid those tempting, high-sugar and bad for you teeth foods like soda, surgery sports and fruit drinks, and candy.

A smart self-care plan can go a long way toward ensuring the healthy teeth you have now will stay healthy in years to come.