Gum disease or periodontal disease is a serious concern, especially since the symptoms are often not apparent right away. Without early treatment, this condition can lead to tooth and bone loss as well as other health problems.
What is Periodontal or Gum Disease?
Periodontal disease is a condition where your teeth’s surrounding and supporting gum or bone tissue get inflamed or infected. There are two main periodontal disease stages or types of gum disease: gingivitis, and periodontitis.
What is Gingivitis?
When gum disease affects only the soft tissue surrounding teeth, i.e. gums, this condition is known as gingivitis.
What is Periodontitis?
When the infection progresses underneath the gums, damaging supporting tissue and bone, this condition is known as periodontitis.
Periodontitis is further classified as:
- Chronic periodontitis: The most common form of periodontitis, this is generally identified by pocket formation in the gum line. It can affect any age group but is most common in people over 45 years of age, and can lead to slow attachment and bone loss if left untreated.
- Aggressive periodontitis – Accompanied by progressive attachment or bone loss and familial aggregation, this form of periodontitis progresses rapidly. It’s common in smokers and people with a family history of the condition, but can also affect people who are otherwise considered clinically healthy.
- Periodontitis as a manifestation of other diseases – Other health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and respiratory problems can lead to the development of this form of periodontitis. As a manifestation of systemic diseases, it can often occur starting at a young age.
- Necrotizing periodontal disease – This infection causes necrosis or tissue death, usually in the periodontal ligament, gingival tissues and alveolar bone. It often accompanies systemic conditions such as HIV, malnutrition, chronic stress or immunosuppression.
What Are the Symptoms of Gum Disease and How Is It Diagnosed by Your Dentist?
Early gingivitis symptoms are usually silent, but the condition can be diagnosed by dental health professionals before it becomes more serious. This is why regular appointments with your family dentist are such an essential part of preventive dental care.
Here are some common gum disease symptoms and warning signs to watch out for:
- Redness, swelling, inflammation or tenderness in gums, or mouth pain
- Bleeding gums, especially after you brush, floss or eat hard foods
- Receding gums that make teeth look longer by pulling away from them
- Shifting teeth, separation between them or changes in your bite
- Sores, lesions or pus in your mouth, especially near gums and teeth
- Severe and persistent halitosis (bad breath)
- Changes in the way partial dentures fit
During routine checkups, your family dentist will conduct a periodontal examination with pocket probing or charting, i.e. measuring pocket depth for the spaces between gums and teeth. Spaces that measure 4mm or more, and any sign of bleeding gums, typically point to the presence of gum disease.
What Causes Gum Disease and What Are the Risk Factors Involved?
Here are some bleeding gums causes and risk factors include:
- Plaque Buildup – This tops the list of gingivitis causes, since plaque is a buildup of bacterial toxins that get trapped in gum pockets and harden into tartar, causing irritation and infection.
- Tobacco Use – Smoking or consuming tobacco in any other form puts you at higher risk for developing gingivitis, as well as tooth loss and other damage caused by severe periodontitis.
- Hormonal Shifts – Changes in hormone levels during menstruation, pregnancy or menopause can cause an inflammatory response to toxins in the body. This is also why ‘pregnancy gingivitis’ occurs.
- Poor Diet – Eating disorders, obesity and lack of proper nutrients increase the risk of periodontal disease. Nutritional deficiencies affect the immune system, so your body can’t fight infection.
- Crooked Teeth – People with crooked, gapped or uneven teeth may also be at higher risk for gum disease. This is primarily due to difficulty cleaning between teeth and removing plaque.
- Genetic Factors – In some cases, hereditary conditions can leave you more susceptible to receding gums and deep pockets. A genetic test can help your dentist determine if you are at risk.
- Teeth Grinding – If you’re clenching or grinding your teeth because of stress, or suffer from TMJ disorder, the extra pressure on the supporting tissues of your mouth can cause damage.
- Stress/Anxiety – Stress makes it harder for your body to fight infection. People who are stressed or suffer from anxiety may be at a higher risk for many health problems, including gum disease.
- Certain Medication – Some medicines can affect your gum health as well, so make sure to tell your dentist if you’re on anti-depressants, oral contraceptives, getting treated for heart conditions, etc.
- Other Health Issues – Xerostomia or dry mouth, as well as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV and other systemic conditions can increase the risk of gum disease.
Which Age Group or Demographic Faces the Highest Risk?
While periodontal disease can strike anyone regardless of age, gender or income level, it tends to be more prevalent in certain groups:
- According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gum disease affects over 47% of American adults over the age of 30.
- The same study says that more than 70% of Americans over the age of 64 have mild, moderate or severe periodontitis.
- A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey also suggests the risk is higher for current smokers, low income groups, and people with less education.
Of course, people with poor oral hygiene face the highest risk of developing gum disease. Raising awareness about the importance of brushing, flossing and professional cleaning is critical to bringing these numbers down.
Long-Term Effects of Untreated Periodontal Disease
If gum disease is left untreated for too long, it can cause serious oral health problems. In addition to gum recession, you may suffer from loose teeth, loss of bone tissue in the jaw and even missing teeth. If you do lose a tooth, don’t despair. We offer cosmetic dentistry in Fresno and will gladly help you explore tooth replacement options.
Other Medical and Health Conditions Related to Gum Disease
Along with dental health problems, periodontal disease is also related to other medical and health issues, such as:
- Diabetes – Diabetics are prone to dry mouth, which can lead to gingivitis and tooth decay, as well as poor healing of oral tissues. Periodontal disease can also increase blood sugar or cause diabetic complications.
- Heart Disease – Research indicates that inflammation caused by periodontal disease can increase the risk of heart disease, heart attacks and stroke, as well as aggravate existing symptoms of heart disease.
- Leukemia – Leukemia affects your ability to fight infections, increasing the risk of gum disease. Gingivitis at an early age is often indicative of leukemia in children.
- Cancer – Research suggests that people with gum disease may be at a higher risk of developing cancer, particularly mouth, kidney, pancreatic and blood cancers.
- Menopause – In rare cases, post-menopausal women can develop desquamative gingivitis, which causes layers of gum tissue to pull away and expose the nerves.
- Osteoporosis – Gum disease can cause bone loss in the jaw, which progresses more rapidly if bone density around your teeth is reduced as a result of osteoporosis.
- Respiratory Disease – Some studies have linked gum disease with respiratory problems such as pneumonia, through the aspiration of mouth bacteria into the lungs.
- Premature Birth – Studies suggest that women with periodontal disease in pregnancy are more likely to give birth prematurely, with low birth-weight in babies.
How to Treat Gum Disease
After a thorough checkup and diagnosis of receding gums causes, your dentist can provide treatment at different stages of the condition. Depending on the severity of damage to your gums and teeth as well as the state of your oral health in general, gum disease treatment options may include:
Non-Surgical Gingivitis Treatment
In its early stages, gingivitis can be treated with removal of accumulated plaque and tartar between gums and teeth. This allows inflamed gums to recover and keeps the infection from spreading further. Common solutions include:
- Dental Cleaning
- Scaling and Root Planing
Surgical Treatment for Gum Disease
Later stages of periodontitis require more extensive treatment, often combining corrective procedures with tooth or bone restoration. Your dentist may use more than one technique to reverse soft tissue and bone loss, including:
- Pocket Reduction Surgery
- Bone Grafts
- Soft Tissue Grafts
- Guided Tissue Regeneration
- Bone Surgery
Tips for Preventing Gum Disease
The most important step toward fighting gum disease is keeping it at bay, with preventive dental care and good oral health.
Here are some tips to follow:
- Follow a good oral hygiene routine to prevent plaque, infection and bad breath.
- Get professional dental cleanings to remove hardened tartar or plaque buildup.
- If you smoke or use tobacco, quit now. Your whole body will be healthier for it.
- Exercise regularly and stick to a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruits and veggies.
- Drink loads of water and fresh juices instead of sugary sodas or packaged drinks.
- Maintain a proper schedule for dental appointments, with checkups twice a year.
If you take good care of your teeth and gums, you will probably never have to wonder how to treat gingivitis. To learn more about whether you’re at risk for gum disease, schedule a periodontal examination with Dr. Michael G. Long, a family dentist in Fresno, CA. Call (559) 432-4850 to book your appointment today!