Periodontal disease occurs when inflammation affects the gums. According to studies by both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA), nearly half of all Americans over the age of 30 have some level of gum disease, and many show signs of the most advanced stages of periodontal disease. While gum disease is prevalent among adults and detrimental to dental health, it is manageable, treatable, and reversible if diagnosed and treated early enough. Unfortunately, gum disease can become much worse if it is left alone, and may eventually result in bone and tooth loss.
Causes of Gum Disease
Bacteria cause gum disease. Mouths are a breeding ground for bacteria that form plaque on and between our teeth above and below the gum line. When plaque is not treated, it becomes tartar, a harder material that can only be removed through a professional cleaning by a dental hygienist.
What Creates Gum Disease-Causing Bacteria?
Several factors contribute to the growth of bacteria in our mouths. These factors include poor oral hygiene, high-sugar diets, smoking, hormonal changes in girls and women that increase gum sensitivity and allow increased bacteria growth, and certain medications that reduce the amount of bacteria-fighting saliva in the mouth.
What Are the Symptoms of Gum Disease?
While gum disease symptoms vary from patient to patient and typically do not show until after the age of 30, most individuals develop at least one of the following:
- Swollen gums
- Tender or bleeding gums
- Continuous bad breath
- Receding gums
- Pain when chewing or speaking
- Sensitive teeth
- Loose teeth
How Is Gum Disease Diagnosed?
The most common way for your dentist to test for gum disease is to measure the size of your periodontal pockets. Using a dental probe, your dentist checks for abnormally large pockets (any pocket that is larger than five millimeters). Additional tests for periodontal disease include x-rays to identify bone loss.
Can It Be Reversed?
Reversing gum disease is all about controlling the progression of it. Managing the growth of bacteria requires both at-home and in-office treatment. Proper brushing and flossing practices remove plaque, which leads to the early stages of the disease. At-home care can also include quitting tobacco use and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. For more progressed levels of gum disease, in-office treatments such as scaling and root planing can remove plaque and tartar before they develop into more advanced stages of periodontal disease.
With proper care, gum disease is preventable and treatable, whether you require regular cleanings or more advanced periodontal surgery. Gum health affects overall oral health, and good gum health will provide a lasting, beautiful smile.