What is gum disease? Also known as periodontal disease, it is classified by most dental professionals as a devastating infection that eventually leads to loss of teeth if not treated. While approaches such as possible surgical intervention, antibiotics and plaque removal have proven quite effective in slowing down the associated infection while restoring diseased tissues, the fact of the matter remains: The more advanced the disease, the more difficult it is to treat. The answer, then, is to understand and acknowledge the warning signs of gum disease before the affliction can grab hold of one’s overall oral health.
Let’s begin this gum disease symptom analysis by explaining why gum disease is often referred to as a “silent” anomaly…this affliction can develop without any indicating element such as pain or discomfort. Lots of times, however, bacteria concentrates in a particular portion of the tissue of the gum, forming a periodontal abscess, and in these cases the abscessed tissue can become extremely red, swollen and painful. In extreme examples, the area may even discharge pus.
The Most Common Sign of Gum Disease is…
Perhaps the most common early sign of gum disease are bleeding gums, further encouraged by an infection that triggers tissue inflammation, which is actually the body’s defense mechanism to isolate and fight bacteria.
As the inflammation becomes chronic, it can weaken the gum tissues, yielding more aggressive bleeding that’s easily triggered. The problem we’ve seen all too often with many of our patients is that bleeding is commonly overlooked as a normal reaction to, for example, brushing too vigorously; in reality, bleeding gums are NOT normal, even if you think it’s merely from some “bad gingivitis.” If gums routinely bleed during normal brushing and flossing, a dental appointment should be made as soon as possible. Similarly, if gums are seemingly red, swollen or tender to the touch, this also indicates inflammation and infection.
Advanced Signs of Gum Disease
When symptoms start moving up a few notches on the “irregularity” scale, it’s truly time to take a closer look at your mouth and gums: If your teeth tend to be sensitive during brushing, drinking liquids that may be hot or cold, or when biting down, it can mean that the gums have “receded” – pulled back – from the teeth, exposing the highly sensitive dentin and roots. Additionally, teeth that seem to have moved or feel loose may equate to the gum tissues having significantly detached from the teeth in response to an increasing amount of bone loss.
When gingivitis – gum inflammation – is left untreated, it advances to periodontitis, in which the inside layer of the bone and gum pull away from the teeth and form pockets. Debris can then collect in these small spaces between gums and teeth, rendering them infected – as we touched on above – which prompts the body’s immune system to battle the bacteria like a proverbial comic hero-versus-villain slugfest as the plaque grows and spreads beneath the gum line. Indeed, it is periodontitis that defines a more aggressive, advanced sign of gum disease.
Plaque is Poison
But it gets worse: Poisons or toxins produced by plaque’s bacteria, as well as the body’s “good” enzymes that fight infections, begin to erode the connective tissue and bone holding teeth in place. With the progression of the disease comes deepening pockets and destruction of additional bone and gum tissue, and when this occurs teeth find themselves in a position no longer considered “buttoned down.” They subsequently become loose, leading to tooth loss…and when it comes to adults, gum disease is the primary catalyst of tooth decay.
But What Causes Gum Disease?
Okay, so we’ve covered what to essentially look for when gum disease may be rearing its ugly head…now, let’s take a quick look at what actually causes these problems while analyzing the factors contributing to periodontal nightmares.
• Hormonal Changes – Gums become more sensitive during monthly menstruation, menopause, pregnancy and even puberty, making it easier for gingivitis to develop.
• Illnesses – Because afflictions such as diabetes affects the body’s ability to use blood sugar, patients with this disease, as well as other such as HIV or cancer, are at higher risk of developing infections including periodontal disease and cavities.
• Medications – Because some ultimately reduce the flow of saliva, which applies a protective coat over teeth and gums, medications can affect oral health. Additionally, some drugs, such as the anticonvulsant Dilantin and anti-angina Procardia and Adalat, can cause gum tissue growth that’s considered abnormal.
• Bad Habits – Activities such as smoking make it more difficult for gum tissue to repair itself.
• Poor Oral Hygiene Habits – Making it easier for gingivitis to develop are tendencies to not brush and floss on a daily basis.
• Dental Disease in the Family History – Studies have shown that this can be a significant contributing factor in gingivitis development.
How Does Dr. Sherman Diagnose and Treat Gum Disease?
During a thorough dental exam at Park Avenue Dental, Dr. Sherman typically checks for:
• Pocket depth of the gums in addition to firmness, swelling and bleeding; the larger and deeper the space between the gum and tooth, the more severe the disease.
• Movement and sensitivity of teeth as well as proper alignment.
• Jawbone health, to help detect the breakdown of surrounding bone of the teeth.
This shouldn’t come as any surprise, but we have to mention it anyway: Dr. Sherman’s goals for the treatment of gum disease begin with the promotion of the reattachment of healthy gums to teeth…in addition to swelling reduction, depth of pockets analysis for risk of infection determination and to cease the progression of all diseases. Treatment options Park Avenue Dental takes in this regard are dependent on stage of the disease, response to earlier treatments and an individual patient’s overall health, while options run the gamut from nonsurgical therapies meant to control bacterial growth to restorative surgery for supportive tissues.
Gum Disease Prevention: A Brief Overview
Of course, like most medical anomalies, prevention is the best route to take…it’s the classic “nipping a problem in the bud” approach. Gum disease can actually be reversed in nearly all cases when proper plaque control is implemented by a patient, and this typically consists of professional cleanings at least twice a year plus brushing and flossing on a daily basis. As we all know, brushing wipes out plaque from the teeth surfaces that are within reach, while flossing is instrumental in removing food particles and plaque from in between the teeth and under the gum line. Also aiding in this endeavor are antibacterial mouth rinses that reduce the bacteria responsible for much of the plaque our mouths endure, as well as gum disease…and this is all confirmed by the American Dental Association.
In summary, health and lifestyle changes that have been proven to effectively decrease the risk, severity and speed of gum disease development include avoiding smoking, reducing stress, maintaining a well-balanced diet and avoiding clenching and grinding teeth. If you or a loved one have been experiencing symptoms of gum disease, do not hesitate to give Park Avenue Dental a call.