Millions of invisible bacterial cultures call our mouths home and once they mix with mucus and the other particles in the mouth, they create a sticky plaque that clings to our teeth. Left unmanaged, this plaque hardens into tartar. The good news? With a consistent oral health routine, plaque buildup can be prevented.
If plaque and tartar are allowed to remain and buildup on teeth, it can become increasingly harmful over time. Early stages of buildup causes gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease that is characterized by red, swollen gums that bleed easily. This can usually be reversed with regular cleanings by your dentist or hygienist and by adhering to a daily cleaning routine.
Left untreated, gingivitis can progress into more serious forms of gum and periodontal disease; the main challenge of detecting it is that it does not cause pain. Bleeding gums during the early stages are the only sign of its development. As periodontal disease progresses, even this bleeding can stop and no other signs will be apparent until teeth become loose.
In most cases, bleeding gums respond well to treatment and progress can be stopped, but any tissue destruction that occurs is usually irreversible. Spaces created by gum recession can become infected; as plaque and bacteria spreads into these pockets and below the gum line, toxins and the body’s response to infection begin to cause a breakdown in the bone and connective tissues that hold the teeth in place.
Symptoms of gum disease include:
- Bad breath that won’t go away
- Red or swollen gums
- Tender or bleeding gums
- Painful chewing
- Loose teeth
- Sensitive teeth
- Receding gums or longer appearing teeth
So what can increase your risk of developing periodontal and gum disease? A number of factors, including:
- Smoking. Alas, despite the many reasons we might enjoy lighting a fine cigar or indulging our cigarette habit, smoking has been found to be one of the most significant factors in the development of gum disease and can decrease the success of treatment. Acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis (Vincent’s disease) occurs almost exclusively in smokers.
- Hormonal shifts in girls and women. We’ve written recently about the effect that shifting levels of hormones, particularly estrogen and progesterone, can have on the dental health of women. Puberty? Menstruation? Babies? Menopause? Turns out these can come with an additional surprise of gingivitis and gum sensitivity.
- Diabetes. People with diabetes face a higher risk of developing infections, including gum disease and other oral health concerns.
- Other illnesses and their treatments. A wide variety of diseases, particularly those affecting the immune system, and their treatments, can negatively affect the health of the gums and lead to oral health concerns.
- Xerostomia. Commonly referred to as dry mouth, insufficient saliva flow can lead to increased sensitivity to infections and can exacerbate the buildup of plaque and tartar.
- Genetics. Unfortunately, some people are simply more likely to develop severe gum disease than others because of genetic factors.
Does this sound like you? Your dentist and hygienist can help you determine the treatment plan that’s right for you. The main goal is to control the infection and minimize plaque and tartar buildup. In office, they’ll remove buildup through scaling and root planing, processes of scraping off and removing tartar and rough spots above and below the gumline.
Ongoing treatment will include regularly brushing twice daily with fluoridated toothpaste, regular flossing or use of an interdental brush, using a therapeutic mouthrinse like Nicorinse, eating a healthy balanced diet with limited sugar and alcohol intake, and regularly visiting your dentist for cleanings and checkups.
Studies have observed that when left untreated, people with periodontal disease are more likely to develop heart disease, have difficulty controlling blood sugar, and women with gum disease are more likely to deliver pre-term, low birth weight babies.
Periodontal disease can have long-term effects on your overall health. But with regular care, it can be prevented. Brushing up on your dental care and regularly taking a seat in the dentist’s chair will help prevent periodontal disease and oral health issues in the future.