Gum disease, known formally as periodontal disease or periodontitis, can result in tooth loss if untreated. It begins as inflammation and irritation of the gingival tissues, or gums, that surround and support your teeth. These symptoms are caused by toxins found in the plaque that builds up on your teeth and gum tissue, leading to bacterial infection.
When bacterial infection invades the gingival tissue, deep pockets form between the teeth and the gums. If the infection is allowed to progress, periodontal disease begins to destroy not only the gum tissue, but also the underlying jawbone, which can lead to tooth loss. In severe cases, the bacteria from the infection can enter the bloodstream and cause problems elsewhere in the body.
The good news is that early treatment of gingivitis, or mild inflammation, can completely reverse the effects of gum disease.
While genetics and environment can play a role in the development of gum disease, there are many steps you can take to reduce your risk of experiencing periodontitis. Be aware of these risk factors:
Brushing, flossing and eating well are the foundation of preventing any dental disease. Good hygiene also includes regular dental visits with examination, cleaning and X-rays. When bacteria, plaque and calculus, or tartar, are allowed to flourish, the teeth, gums and bones are vulnerable to bacterial toxins.
Smoking and chewing tobacco can help periodontal disease-causing bacteria thrive, and tobacco can also weaken the body’s recovery and healing abilities.
Regular brushing, flossing and checkups are especially critical during pregnancy and menopause, as hormonal changes can make gum tissue more susceptible to disease.
Malnutrition and stress can lower your body’s immune system, making you more vulnerable to bacterial infection.
Certain medical conditions can make it easier for gum disease to develop. These include diabetes, respiratory disease, heart disease, arthritis and osteoporosis. Diabetes in particular can make gum infections harder to treat due to reduced insulin utilization.
Clenching or grinding your teeth can damage the tissue that supports them. If gum disease is present, weakened support tissue is in greater danger.
Oral contraceptives, heart medications, antidepressants and steroids can all put your gums and teeth at risk of disease. Steroid use can cause excess growth of gum tissue, increasing swelling and providing more space for bacteria to flourish.
Up to 30 percent of Phoenix, national and world population is inherently at a greater risk of developing gum disease. Talk to Dr. Musselman about your predispositions and what you can do if you fall into this group.
Periodontists are specially trained to treat periodontal disease with the use of tools like dental implants. Other treatments can include thorough cleaning procedures in deep gum pockets, such scaling and root planing. Antibiotic and antifungal medications may also be prescribed to halt the development and spread of infections.
When tooth loss occurs due to periodontal disease, periodontists may perform tissue grafts to promote natural regeneration of gum tissue, and may insert dental implants to replace missing teeth. If gum recession makes your smile look excessively “toothy,” periodontists may recontour the gum tissue to even it out and enhance the aesthetics of your smile.
However, the best treatment for gum disease is prevention. Taking care to account for the causes of periodontal disease and discussing precautions with Dr. Musselman is the best way to prevent the onset, progression and recurrence of gum disease.