The truth about periodontal disease

What is periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease, otherwise known as gum disease, is an infection of the tissues that surround and support your teeth. The gums become inflamed. This is the body’s response to the buildup of bacteria on your teeth. Unfortunately, it is a very common disease. 

Gingivitis is the early stage of gum disease. The good news is that at this stage, it can be easily reversed. 

When left untreated, this disease becomes more severe over time, becoming periodontitis, the more advanced stage of gum disease. It can spread below the gums and along the roots of the teeth, causing damage to the periodontal ligament. This can lead to the loss of tissue and bone. Teeth may feel loose and start moving around the mouth. Yes, periodontal disease can cause you to lose your teeth. 

In the US, 47.2% of adults over the age of 30 suffer from periodontitis. It is the leading cause of tooth loss. 

Who can get periodontal disease?

It can happen to anyone of any age. 

What causes periodontal disease?

Gum disease is caused by plaque—that film of bacteria that is constantly forming on your teeth. 

Periodontal bacteria are normally present in the mouth (your mouth is home to more than 700 different species of bacteria but most of them are harmless) but they become harmful when they are allowed to increase in number and thrive. This happens when you do not clean your teeth thoroughly enough. 

There are different factors that increase your risk of developing periodontal disease.

  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Crooked teeth that are difficult to clean
  • Genetics
  • Diabetes
  • Pregnancy
  • Some medications including steroids, some calcium channel blockers, some anti-epilepsy drugs, drugs for cancer therapy and oral contraceptives

How do I know if I have periodontal disease?

Because gum disease is commonly painless, people may not know the have it. 

Here are some signs to watch out for:

  • Gums that bleed easily (including when you’re brushing)
  • Gums that are swollen, red and tender
  • Receding gums
  • Persistent bad breath
  • A persistent bad taste in the mouth
  • The presence of pus in the gum area
  • Permanent teeth that are separating or are loose
  • Changes in the way your teeth fit together
  • Changes in the fit of partial dentures

But it is also possible to have gum disease with none of these symptoms. This is why regular visits to your dentist are important. They are able to detect signs of the disease at a much earlier stage. 

What can I do about it?

If you suspect that you have periodontal disease, see your dentist right away. The sooner treatment begins, the better. 

If you have gingivitis, a professional cleaning will be done and you will be advised to brush and floss your teeth daily (which you should already be doing anyway). 

The treatment of periodontal disease will depend on its severity. It is essential to make sure you maintain good oral hygiene at home to keep it from progressing. In some cases, if the infection is persistent and doesn’t respond to oral hygiene methods, antibiotics may be prescribed. 

In some cases, a surgical procedure is done to clean the plaque and deposits under the gums and on the root surfaces.

How can I avoid periodontal disease?

Brush and floss your teeth regularly. This prevents periodontal disease from happening and from recurring if you’ve had it before.

If you have crooked or crowded teeth, take extra special care in cleaning your teeth. Pay special attention too to areas around fillings, crowns and dentures because plaque can accumulate there. 

Go for regular dental cleaning and checkups.

Avoid smoking. Smokers are significantly more likely to develop periodontitis than non-smokers. It also progresses much faster, with more rapid tooth loss, in smokers. 

Reduce stress because stress compromises your immunity, making it more challenging for your body to fight off infection.

Diet also has an impact on periodontal health so it is important to eat well.
Maintain a well-balanced diet and eat food that have antioxidant properties like green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits.

Remember, taking care of your teeth is taking care of your gums and taking care of your gums is taking care of your teeth.


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