One of the most common oral health issues is gum (periodontal) disease. It’s also a major cause of tooth loss in adults.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that gum disease—from mild cases of gingivitis to the more severe form known as periodontitis—affects almost half of adults over age 30 and over 70% of adults 65 years of age and older in the U.S. Gum disease is common but largely preventable.
Causes of Periodontal Disease
Gum disease occurs when dental plaque is not removed by brushing your teeth daily. Dental plaque is a sticky substance made from leftover food particles and saliva that grows on surfaces within the mouth. Along with their toxins, bacteria in dental plaque break down gum tissues.
Gingivitis results when your body fires back with an inflammatory response, resulting in red, swollen gums.
Advanced gum disease (periodontitis) infects the tissues that support the teeth. As the tissue is attacked and the infection worsens, tooth loss can result.
Gum Disease Prevention and Treatment
Good oral hygiene can prevent gum disease. Follow these steps to maintain healthy teeth and gums:
- Practice regular dental care, which includes brushing after every meal and before bedtime, and flossing at least once a day
- Visit your dentist twice a year for a professional cleaning. When plaque accumulates, it can mineralize, trapping stains and turning into tartar. Once tartar has formed, only your dentist or hygienist can remove it
If you develop advanced periodontitis, the bone and supporting tissues around your teeth are affected. Your gums and teeth may need to be treated surgically or removed.
If you notice any of the following warning signs of gum disease, contact your dentist:
- Red, swollen or tender gums
- Bleeding while brushing or flossing
- Gums that pull away from the teeth and/or loose or separating teeth
- Red, white or swollen areas in any part of your mouth
- Persistent bad breath
You can have gum disease and not know it. Left untreated, gum disease can lead to other serious medical conditions, including diabetes and heart disease, along with premature delivery and low birth weight babies.
Gum disease can also cause your gums to recede, which exposes the roots of your teeth. Genetics, brushing too hard, hormone levels (during puberty, pregnancy or menopause), using tobacco products, grinding or clenching your teeth, crooked teeth or a misaligned bite are all factors that can play a role in receding gums.
Your dentist can treat mild gum recession by deep cleaning the affected area. Antibiotics also may be prescribed to get rid of any remaining harmful bacteria. If the bone supporting your teeth has been destroyed, a procedure to regenerate lost bone and tissue may be recommended.
Good oral hygiene can prevent gum disease
Fortunately, with good oral hygiene, you can prevent gum disease:
- Practice regular dental care, which includes brushing after every meal and before bedtime, and flossing at least once a day.
- Visit your dentist twice a year for a professional cleaning. When plaque accumulates, it can mineralize, trapping stains and turning into tartar. Once tartar has formed, only your dentist or hygienist can remove it.
If you develop advanced gum disease, the bone and supporting tissues around your teeth are affected. Your gums and teeth may need to be treated surgically or removed.
- Periodontal pocket reduction: If the gum tissue is not fitting snugly around the tooth and you can’t keep the deep pocket area clean, you may be a candidate for a periodontal pocket reduction. This involves folding back the gum tissue and removing the disease-causing bacteria.
- Gum grafts: Exposed roots due to gum recession can be covered with gum grafts where tissue is taken from your palate or another source and used to cover the roots of one or more teeth.
- Bone grafting: This surgical procedure promotes the growth of bone where it’s been destroyed by periodontal disease.
- Dental implants: If you must have teeth removed, you can be fitted with dental implants.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
To keep gum disease and other oral issues at bay, it’s important to schedule a dental checkup at least twice a year.