The Facts on Periodontal Disease
The term periodontal disease sounds so complicated and frightening, but its meaning is simple: around the tooth, and it relates to diseases or conditions that affect the surrounding structures and support of teeth. These structures include the gums, ligaments, and bone matter that surround and support the teeth. There are different stages of this disease, the first of which affecting the gum tissue. If it isn't treated in this beginning stage, it can progress and affect the deeper structures around the teeth. This causes gradual destruction of bone and can lead to tooth loss.
Periodontal disease is quite a common occurrence, and in Australia, statistics suggest that 20% of adults are affected by periodontal disease. As a result,this is the main cause of tooth loss in the adult population of the country.
For this reason, it is important to know what periodontal disease is, what the risk factors are, and how to prevent and treat it.
What is gingivitis?
The first stage of the disease is called gingivitis. This is a condition that solely affects the gum tissue surrounding the teeth, and can be the result of a gum infection or injury. In chronic cases, it is caused by an excessive build-up of plaque or tartar around the teeth along the gum line.
Plaque is a sticky film consisting of bacteria and other substances that coats the teeth. If we don't use good oral hygiene practices, the plaque can build up and settle along the gum line at the base of the teeth and irritate or infect the gum tissue.
So, how do you know if you have gingivitis? The first telltale sign is bleeding gums usually during brushing. A few other signs are: gums that are shiny and red, swollen gums, inflamed gums, and possibly unpleasant breath. Because this stage only affects the gum tissue, and not the supporting bone, teeth do not become loose.
Gingivitis is a treatable and reversible condition that will not progress if it is treated immediately. Visit your dentist and follow the advice they give you. At home, be sure to brush your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled brush and floss thoroughly between teeth once a day. Rinse your mouth with water after eating snacks or drinking sugary or acidic beverages if brushing isn't an option.
What is periodontitis?
If gingivitis isn't taken care of it can progress to the next stage called periodontitis. This is a more serious condition that affects deeper layers of gum and bone tissue. In severe cases it can lead to bone loss which weakens tooth support and may result in tooth loss.
In areas infected with periodontitis, receding gums form pockets. These pockets are ideal collection points for even more bacteria and other substances causing further inflammation and infection. When the body's immune system detects the infection and attacks it, this combination harms bone and connective tissues breaking them down and weakening the tooth's support.
In most cases, periodontitis is caused by a severe build up of plaque, or tartar, due to improper oral hygiene. Smoking or use of smokeless tobacco is another common cause. Smoking weakens the immune system's ability heal. It also restricts the flow of blood to gum tissue by constricting blood vessels. Diabetes also increases the risk of periodontal issues. This is most likely because people with diabetes get infections easier than others.
What are the risk factors involved?
The extent to which a person is affected by periodontal disease depends on several factors.
The number one factor is the strength of the bacteria involved and how well the individual's immune system can respond to the invasive bacteria. People who have weakened immune systems as a result of age, illness, or other conditions, tend to have more severe cases of this disease.
Some other common risk factors include the following:
- Smoking cigarettes or using smokeless tobacco.
- Genetic susceptibility.
- Stress, which suppresses the body's immune response and ability to fight infection and inflammation.
- Certain medications, such as oral contraceptives, anti-depressants, and some heart medications to name a few. Be sure to ask your dentist or physician if you are concerned about a medication you are taking.
- Clenching or grinding teeth which harm the supportive tissues of the teeth because of the force that is exerted.
- Systemic diseases that affect the immune system, such as diabetes, HIV, leukaemia, or Down's Syndrome.
- Poor nutrition or a lack of vital nutrients in a person's diet meaning the body will be unable to fight inflammation or infection. Also, a diet that is high in sugar is harmful to oral health.
- Obesity may also increase risk due to a burdened immune system.
- Aging, which causes the immune system to weaken and reduces ability to fight infection and inflammation caused by invasive bacteria.
How can periodontal conditions be prevented?
Following proper oral hygiene, and general health habits are the most important defenses against gum disease and possible complications.
Efficient and effective brushing and flossing are number one on the list of good habits. Brush teeth for two to three minutes, twice daily. Use a soft bristled brush to avoid injuries that could lead to gum infection. Electric brushes are even more effective than hand operated in removing plaque and bacteria. Floss every day to clear substances from between teeth and from areas where brushing doesn't reach. Have your dentist show you the most effective brushing and flossing techniques.
Be sure to visit your dentist for regular check-ups and cleaning, or if you experience inflamed, swollen, or bleeding gums.
Avoid eating an unhealthy diet. Boost your immune system with nutritious foods and avoid unhealthy foods and beverages. After eating snacks or drinking something with sugar or acid, rinse your mouth with water when brushing isn't possible.
Quit smoking or using smokeless tobacco products.
What treatments are available for gum disease?
If you suspect that you have gum disease, visit your dentist as soon as possible. After examination, our experienced dentists will discuss the treatment options with you, and suggest those best suited for your circumstances.
Which treatment is best depends on the stage and severity of the condition. Some treatment options are:
- Professional cleaning of all the plaque and substances from the teeth.
- Scaling, which removes calculus (hardened plaque)and bacteria from the surfaces of teeth as well as along the gum line or underneath the gum surface. Your dentist may use ultrasonic, laser, or hand instruments.
- Root planning which smooths out the surfaces of the roots and stops plaque build-up from progressing. This also removes bacteria from the effected teeth and gums.
- Antibiotics may also be prescribed to fight bacterial infection.
- For more advanced cases there are specific surgical treatments that your dentist will discuss in detail with you.
Gum disease is a common condition that often goes undetected until symptoms occur. Fortunately, it is a preventable and reversible condition, and proper care of our teeth and gums is one of the most powerful tools we have to prevent disease from happening in the first place.