Managing and Preventing Gum Disease
Managing and Preventing Gum Disease
Gingivitis is one of the most common phrases used in dentistry. You’ve
doubtlessly gotten the feeling that it’s a bad thing, and that one of the
main reasons why you should brush and floss regularly is to prevent it. But
is gingivitis just a synonym for gum disease, or is it a worse form? And is
it something that interacts with other diseases? One of a dentist’s most
important responsibilities is teaching their patients how to look after
themselves and how to recognize when they need help, so this month’s
newsletter is devoted to the basic aspects of gum disease and what options a
patient has for treating it at various stages.
Gingivitis and Periodontitis Defined
Gingivitis simply means inflammation of the gums, which are also known as gingival tissue. It is actually the less serious form of gum disease. Although the gums can become swollen due to an acute injury, gingivitis is usually meant to describe the inflammation that results from harmful oral bacteria clinging to the teeth. Oral bacteria secrete acid as a waste product of cellular respiration. A film of saliva and bacteria called plaque is constantly forming on the teeth, and acidic products become trapped in it. The acid not only causes decay in the adjacent tooth enamel, but also irritates the nearby gums.
Gums don’t cling to teeth at exactly the place they extend to. There is
actually a bit of a pocket in between them and the enamel, which your
hygienist probes during regular cleanings. When plaque doesn’t get removed,
it hardens into tartar above and below the gum line. Tartar continues to
irritate the gums, which is why a person might notice them bleeding when
they brush their teeth or find that they feel more sensitive. As a gum
pocket infection progresses, it will become periodontitis, also known as
periodontal disease, which is the worse version of gum disease. At this
point, the acid is damaging the structure of the jaw bone and causing the
deep gum tissue to recede away from the tooth roots. If it goes on, the
tooth could become loose enough to fall out.
Risks of Gum Disease
People are much more likely to develop gum disease when they aren’t brushing
away plaque or flossing out food debris regularly. However, gums can also
become inflamed more easily when their walls have been weakened due to
chemical changes in the body. Pregnant women commonly experience gingivitis
due to hormones that are making their cells more permeable, and people with
diabetes experience damage to vascular systems throughout their bodies.
Anything that suppresses the immune system is also going to make it harder
for the body to fight off a gum infection, making gum disease symptoms more
likely to develop. Smoking also damages gum tissue and puts a person at
greater risk for infection. There is also a possibility that the patient is
brushing their teeth too hard or flossing too deeply.
Options for Treatment
Gum Disease isn’t usually difficult to manage while it’s still in the gingivitis stage. A professional cleaning can safely break up tartar without risking harm to the enamel and pull plaque from beneath the gum line. Brushing more efficiently (with a soft-bristled brush) can stop gums from bleeding, and you can also combat oral bacteria by using mouthwash and chewing sugar-free gum after meals.
Ending periodontal infections will require more serious intervention. A common first step is scaling and planing, wherein a dentist applies local anesthetic to the mouth. They then clean deep within the gum pocket and shave the tooth root in order to smooth it out and deprive oral bacteria of a hiding place. They may also place slow-releasing anti-bacterial gel packets in the gum pockets. Some dentists use lasers to remove diseased tissue.
In severe cases, oral surgery may be recommended. This could include the use
of sutures to pull receded gum tissue back into place. Oral surgeons may
also recommend gum grafts or bone grafts to replace damaged tissue,
particularly if a patient has lost a tooth and doesn’t have enough jaw bone
tissue for an implant. The patient would also be prescribed stronger
antibacterial mouthwash. Serious cases of gum disease may not be completely
reversible, so we hope a patient would seek help long before reaching that
point. Patients should also quickly seek help for anything that is causing
physical damage to their gums and may want to consider orthodontics or
veneers to make their teeth easier to clean.