10 Questions and Answers About Gum Disease
Equipping You to Understand and Prevent Gum Disease
What would you do if we said that there’s an oral health condition that the majority of American adults have? You’d want to know more, right? Well, it’s true! Gum disease is one of the most common oral health issues out there—gingivitis alone affects 75% of American adults. That’s a high incidence for any condition, so it’s important to learn more about gum disease and what makes it so common.
After all, the more you understand about gum disease, the better you’ll be able to protect yourself from it in the future. To help you do just that, we’ve answered 10 of the most common questions we get about gum disease.
1. What is gum disease?
Gum disease is an infection of the gums that is caused by the same oral bacteria that forms plaque and, eventually, cavities. These bacteria release acid, which attacks and damages your gums, causing them to become irritated and inflamed. There are two types of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis.
Gingivitis is the first, most common, and mildest form of gum disease. It’s much easier to treat and the effects of gingivitis are often reversible. If it’s not treated, however, it can develop into periodontitis, which is the next and much more serious stage of gum disease. If gum disease is left untreated, these bacteria can do permanent damage to your gums and even to the supporting structures of your teeth.
2. What are the stages of gum disease?
There are four main stages to the progression of gum disease. Gingivitis is the first stage and is characterized by irritated or easily bleeding gums. Stage two is mild periodontitis, which is when your gums become so irritated that they begin to pull away from your teeth, breaking the seal that your gums usually create to protect your tooth roots from bacteria. Without that seal, bacteria make it beneath your gum line, where they begin to attack, not just your gums, but your tooth roots and the other supporting structures of your teeth. Because of this, stage two is where you begin to see slight bone loss in your jaw.
In stage three, which is moderate periodontitis, there’s continued and more extensive bone loss and damage to gum tissue, which can make your teeth appear longer and may even cause them to feel loose. The final stage is stage four, which is advanced or severe periodontitis. The symptoms of other stages of periodontitis are often still easy to miss if you’re not paying attention, but it’s at this stage that symptoms become impossible to miss, potentially leading to permanent tooth loss.
3. What causes gum disease?
The most common and well-known cause of gum disease is a poor oral hygiene routine, especially a lack of flossing, which leads to the buildup of plaque and hardened tartar around your gum line. The bristles of your toothbrush simply can’t clean around your gum line and between your teeth very well, so when you don’t floss, you just aren’t cleaning those parts of your teeth, which allows bacteria to flourish there.
4. What are the risk factors for gum disease?
While a poor oral hygiene routine is the most common cause of gum disease, several other risk factors can increase your likelihood of developing it, sometimes even if you stick to a good oral hygiene routine. These include:
- Any form of tobacco use, smoking marijuana, or vaping.
- Older age.
- Hormonal changes, such as those that happen during puberty, menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and menopause.
- Poor nutrition.
- Dry mouth.
- Certain health conditions like diabetes or autoimmune diseases.
- Some medications, including those that impact immune function or cause dry mouth.
- Previous history of gum disease.
Not all of these risk factors are within your control, but some are. Reducing or eliminating the risk factors that you can control will help you decrease your risk of developing gum disease, keeping you healthier in the long run.
5. What are the signs of gingivitis?
Gingivitis has milder symptoms than periodontitis, making it incredibly easy to miss the signs at home if you aren’t paying attention or don’t know what to look for. Since knowing what signs to look for could be the key to diagnosing gum disease early, it’s important to be able to identify them. Common signs of gingivitis include:
- Gums bleeding easily, particularly when you floss.
- Irritated or tender gums.
- Swollen gums.
- Gums that have darkened in color to red.
- Persistently bad breath.
- Receding gums.
6. What are the signs of periodontitis?
Although periodontitis is a more severe form of gum disease, many of its symptoms are still easy to miss until it becomes advanced. It shares many of the same symptoms as gingivitis, but as the condition progresses, these symptoms worsen and new ones appear. If you have periodontitis, you might notice symptoms like:
- Gums bleeding easily, including when you floss or even simply brush your teeth.
- Swollen gums.
- Tender, irritated, sore gums.
- Dark red or purplish gums.
- Persistently bad breath.
- Receding gums, which may make your teeth look longer than before.
- Pus between your teeth and gums.
- Difficulty or pain when chewing.
- A change in the way your bite fits together.
- Deep pockets between your teeth and gums, which may get food stuck in them.
- Development of spaces between your teeth.
- Teeth suddenly feeling loose or unstable.
- Tooth loss.
7. How does gum disease affect my overall health?
Your mouth is just as connected to the rest of your body as any other part of it, so periodontitis has a significant impact on your overall health. When bacteria make it underneath your gum line, they can also make it into your bloodstream, which can increase your risk of developing a surprising number of overall health issues. These include issues like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, endocarditis, and complications in pregnancy or childbirth.
Periodontitis can also make it harder to control existing health conditions like diabetes, and inhaling oral bacteria increases your likelihood of developing pneumonia or other respiratory conditions.
8. How is gingivitis treated?
The good news with gingivitis is that, as the mildest form of gum disease, it’s usually incredibly easy to treat! In most cases, all you need to do to treat gingivitis is commit to a great oral hygiene routine. This includes brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day, flossing at least once a day, and using a mouthwash daily. You may want to use a mouthwash that is specifically designed to help treat gingivitis to give this routine a little more kick. This routine usually resolves your gingivitis within a couple of weeks!
9. How is periodontitis treated?
Since periodontitis is more severe than gingivitis, treating it is more difficult. There are several different treatment methods, including both nonsurgical and surgical periodontal therapy treatments—which is best for you depends on the severity of your case.
One common nonsurgical method is called scaling and root cleaning. During this treatment, dental lasers are carefully used to clean bacteria from beneath the gum line and to smooth the surface of your tooth roots, which makes it harder for bacteria to grow on them in the future. We may also prescribe oral antibiotics or use Perio Protect trays to deliver antibiotics below the gumline—directly where you need them!
More advanced cases of periodontitis, however, may need surgical treatments to open up your gums and clean the roots of your teeth more directly or remove infected gum tissue. You may also need treatments to repair damage from periodontitis, such as gum grafts, bone grafts, or tooth restorations like dental implants. These restorative treatments can be an equally important part of periodontitis treatment, helping to restore the function, health, and appearance of your smile while also helping protect it from future oral health issues.
10. How can you prevent gum disease?
Thankfully, despite how serious gum disease can be, it’s incredibly easy to prevent! Preventing it is usually as simple as sticking to a great oral hygiene routine, which means brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day, flossing at least once a day, and using mouthwash daily.
You should also make sure to schedule a regular dental appointment every six months. It’s during this appointment that your dentist gives you a thorough dental cleaning, which actively helps prevent gum disease by removing plaque and hardened tartar from your teeth. During your dental exam, your dentist will also be able to spot any early signs of gum disease, so it can be essential to identifying signs of gingivitis in its earliest stage.
It’s also a great idea to be aware of your risk factors for developing gum disease. This is especially true if you’ve had gum disease before, as having it once does make you more likely to develop it again. When you know your risk factors, you can take steps to minimize or eliminate them, better protecting yourself from gum disease. This is another aspect of gum disease prevention that your dentist can help you with! They can discuss your risk factors with you, answer any of your questions about them, and give you tips on how to manage or minimize them.
Davis Family Dental Care is your first line of defense against gum disease.
While gum disease is incredibly common, impacting a staggering number of American adults, you don’t need to struggle with it! It’s incredibly easy to prevent and knowing what signs to look out for can help you identify any issues early. Learning about gum disease truly does empower you to take control of this aspect of your health! If you’d like to learn more about gum disease from a modern dentist in Bedford, TX, or if it’s time to schedule your regular dental appointment, feel free to schedule a consultation with us at any time.