February is Gum Disease Awareness Month and dentists and oral health professionals across the globe are taking the time to raise public awareness about gum disease. Our goal is to educate the public on gum disease and the consequences of leaving it untreated while encouraging patients to take a more active role in bettering their oral health.
The mouth can be a busy place. It is home to millions of bacteria, and while some aren’t as harmful, others can attack your teeth and gums. The good news is that gum disease is preventable with quality, daily brushing and flossing along with routine dental exams and cleanings. With the proper care, gum disease can be prevented and in most early stages can even be reversed.
What is gum disease?
Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is a condition where bacterial growth within the mouth causes irritation and infection of the surrounding and supporting tissue of teeth. One of the most common causes of gum disease is the build-up of plaque that hardens into tartar which can only be removed by professionals.
There are two stages of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis. Let’s take a closer look.
Gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease. The common symptoms of gingivitis include swollen or red gums that bleed during brushing and flossing. There is no bone or tissue damage at this stage and teeth are firmly rooted in place. This stage is reversible with dental cleanings and good oral hygiene habits.
Periodontitis is the second stage of gum disease and is the result of gingivitis being left untreated. During this stage, the inner layers of gum and bone have receded from your teeth and formed pockets. These pockets allow for food and bacteria to grow inside leading to possible infection. Common symptoms of periodontitis include sensitive teeth, receding gums, shifting or loss of teeth, and bad breath. Periodontitis requires professional treatment and possible surgical options.
The goals of treatment for gum disease are to reduce inflammation, decrease pocket depth, and to stop and prevent further bone loss (including teeth). Treatment varies from patient to patient and depends on the type of gum disease as well as the condition to which it has progressed.
Treatment options may include home care such as maintaining a healthy diet along with proper brushing and flossing. Brushing only eliminates plaque from the surfaces, so remember to floss to remove plaque from in between teeth and under the gum line.
In the early stages, most treatment options are non-surgical such as scaling and root planing or laser pocket disinfection. Scaling and root planing is when a dentist or hygienist uses metal instruments to scrape away tartar and plaque on the tooth’s surface and in the pockets around your teeth. Laser pocket disinfection may be used as well to treat early forms of gingivitis. During laser pocket disinfection a dental laser is used to kill bacteria within pockets between teeth. Medication may be prescribed to you to help control infection, discomfort, or to help with healing. Your dentist will request a follow-up appointment after a few weeks to evaluate your healing and decide if further treatment is needed.
If your condition has progressed and has become severe, surgery may be recommended. Surgery options allow your dentists to remove plaque and tartar from hard to reach areas. In these cases, a scalpel may be used to cut your gum and fold it back, allowing your dentist to clean the roots of your teeth and view the condition. If needed, reshaping and grafts may also be done. Afterward, your gums will be stitched into place to ensure they hug tightly onto your teeth, helping you to keep them clean.
For more information on gum disease, prevention, and treatment options, please contact Heather J. Cadorette, DDS today.