What is Gum Disease?
Gum disease, also known as periodontitis is a bacterial infection that initially causes inflammation of the gum tissue, followed by bone loss, loosening of the teeth and then the eventual loss of teeth due to lack of bone support. Although it is treatable, once bone loss occurs it cannot be reversed.
The best way I can describe it is by comparing it to diabetes. Once a person becomes a diabetic, they are a diabletic for the rest of their life. However, whether the disease progresses and affects other areas of their body or health depends on how well they control their blood sugars, diet etc on a daily basis….for the rest of their life.
Gum disease is similar. Once we have it, the oral environment changes such that we have it for the rest of our lives. Whether it continues to cause problems depends on how well we can maintain the health of our gums and teeth on a daily basis for the rest of our lives.
To make matters worse, gum disease has been shown to be correlated with atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and hence heart attacks and strokes. Another good reason to try to avoid developing gum problems.
The most common cause of gum disease is bacterial changes in the mouth which can be initiated by poor oral hygiene habits or infrequent dental visits. Certainly, there may be genetic factors as well as diet, crowding of the teeth, etc that can have an influence.
The best prevention is to avoid ever developing gum problems, and if developed, to keep the gums as healthy as possible.
How Does Gum Disease Develop And Progress?
According to the Canadian Dental Association, 7 out of 10 people will develop gum disease in their lifetime. Fortunately, gum disease is usually slow to progress and can be prevented if caught early enough.
When you eat, food can get stuck in your gums and around your teeth. If you do not properly brush and floss your teeth, plaque and bacteria grow in your mouth and feed on old food. They release by-products which are irritating to the gum tissue and damaging to your teeth.
The gums respond by becoming red, puffy, and swollen. They may bleed when brushed and sometimes will also be sore. Likewise, the minerals naturally found in saliva can collect in plaque to form a very hard material called calculus or tartar.
This tartar is even more damaging to the gum tissue in that it cannot be removed by brushing or flossing, and it often builds up in areas underneath the gums which are very difficult to reach. Tartar can only be removed by deep cleaning.
If left untreated, the bone around the teeth then becomes irritated. This results in the bone ‘shrinking’ or resorbing. In later stages, the gums will also shrink as the bone is lost. This bone loss creates very deep spaces called periodontal pockets which trap even greater amounts of plaque and tartar.
If enough bone and gum tissue has been lost then the roots of your teeth will become exposed, the teeth may become sensitive and will begin to look longer. In later stages, a patient may notice his/her teeth either shifting or becoming loose. Unfortunately, by the time this has occurred, about 50% or more bone has already been lost and tooth loss is common.
Stages of Gum Disease
There are mainly two different stages of gum disease. The first is gingivitis (inflammation of the gums). This is a gum infection that occurs when plaque builds up on the teeth, and underneath the gums. Gingivitis can cause extremely bad breath and irritated gums. Gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease and it is often reversible when it is discovered early.
The second, more severe, stage of gum disease is often called periodontitis. This is when the disease spreads beyond the gums and damages the roots and jaw bone. When gum disease has progressed to this point it can be very difficult to treat.
Common Causes of Gum Disease
- Bacterial overgrowth
- Improper oral health care
- Formation of tartar
- Eating a diet low in minerals
- Eating a diet high in sugar
- Having a weakened immune system
- Smoking or chewing tobacco
Gum disease is most often the result of poor dietary choices combined with poor oral hygiene. Gum disease can also occur in patients that have an underlying illness such as diabetes. In some cases, gum disease can run in families. You can learn more about the causes of gum disease at Health Link BC.
What are the Symptoms of Gum Disease?
Many patients do not notice the initial stages of gum disease until it has progressed. The key to successful treatment is early detection. There are several signs and symptoms of gum disease that you should be aware of.
- Red, inflamed gums
- Itchy gums
- Persistent bad breath
- Bleeding gums
- Loose teeth
- Plaque build up around teeth
- Gums pulling away from the teeth
If you think you have one or more of these symptoms of gum disease, contact your dentist immediately.
Gum Disease Treatment
There are several different ways to prevent gum disease, however, the best way is to go to the dentist for regular cleanings. How often you need to visit the dentist depends on the overall health of your gums, how well you clean your teeth between visits, and how much calculus is built up.
Most children and adults do well with a visit and cleaning every six months, however, those with current problems may need to be seen every three or four months.
Your dental professional can advise you further on how to maintain your gum health. It’s important to note that many dental insurance companies have begun paying for fewer cleanings (i.e. every nine to twelve months) in order to cut costs and maintain profits.
Please follow the advice of your dental professional for optimum cleaning and care, regardless of your dental plan coverage. Decay, tooth loss, loss of fillings, crowns, bridges or implants can be prevented by regular cleanings and proper in-home care. For more information about caring for your gums, contact us today.
Contact VCCID To Learn More About Your Options
At VCCID, our team of experts can help prevent, diagnose, or treat gum disease. If you feel like you have symptoms of gum disease or gingivitis, it’s best to treat the problem right away, before it progresses. Our office is conveniently located in Burnaby, Metrotown and we would be happy to have you in for a consultation. Call 604-434-0248 or visit our website today.