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“Good oral health” often brings teeth to mind as people think of cavities and root canals. While clean and healthy teeth are part of overall oral health, this is not the only component. Healthy gums are crucial for a healthy mouth because the gums are responsible for supporting the teeth. When tooth loss occurs in adults, gum disease is often the culprit. Gum disease may not cause pain, so you might not even realize that you have this issue.
What Is Gum Disease?
Gum disease may also be called periodontal disease. This disease involves chronic infection of the gums in the mouth. Plaque is a colorless and sticky coating that develops on teeth. Daily brushing and flossing helps keep plaque at bay. If someone neglects to brush and floss effectively, plaque may harden into a substance called tartar. When plaque and tartar sit on teeth for an extended time, these substances release toxins that come into contact with the gums. Over time, the gums will react to these toxins by swelling or breaking down. Pockets containing bacteria also form in the gums. These bacteria will grow and move deeper into the gums toward the bone that sits under the teeth. If this occurs, teeth may become loose, and they could even fall out. Some people have to have teeth extracted after significant damage occurs.
Symptoms and Treatment
Although periodontal disease can be insidious, it is possible to recognize symptoms. Gums may become tender, red, and swollen, a condition known as gingivitis. When brushing or flossing teeth, gums may begin to bleed. Someone with gum disease may have bad breath or an ongoing unpleasant taste in the mouth. As the disease advances, the gums may begin pulling away from the teeth, known as receding gum lines. Teeth may become loose when the gum line recedes. Someone might also suspect periodontal disease if a bite pattern suddenly changes and teeth do not fit together as they once did.
After a dentist diagnoses periodontal disease, treatment will likely begin immediately. A patient in the early stages of the disease will probably undergo a special cleaning process to descale the teeth. This procedure may also involve planing the root surfaces to clean them. A patient may need to take antibiotics during this process to ward off infection. Most patients respond readily to this treatment to resolve early periodontal disease. A patient with more advanced gum disease may require surgery to resolve the issues. The surgical procedure involves cutting the gums with a laser to access the tartar beneath the gum line. After removing the tartar, the surgeon will need to recontour the bone and reposition the gum tissue so the patient will be able to brush and floss effectively.
Preventing Gum Disease
The most effective defense against periodontal disease is daily brushing and flossing to keep the teeth and gums clean. Patients should also visit the dentist regularly for professional cleanings. Some people have an elevated risk for gum disease, so it may be possible to reduce personal risk factors. Cigarette smokers and people who use chewing tobacco have a higher risk of developing periodontal disease. People who practice poor oral hygiene may be more likely to develop gum disease. Some people have a genetic predisposition to periodontal disease, while people with crooked teeth may have a more difficult time keeping their teeth and gums clean. Additionally, some medications can reduce the amount of saliva present in the mouth. A reduction of saliva can lead to gum disease because saliva helps protect the mouth from bacteria. People with diabetes also have a higher risk of developing gum disease. If you know you have one or more risk factors, speak with your dentist about steps you can take to prevent the development of periodontal disease.
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