If you have been told you have periodontal (gum) disease, you’re not alone. Many adults currently have some form of the disease. Periodontal diseases range from simple gum inflammation to serious disease that results in major damage to the soft tissue and bone that support the teeth. In the worst cases, teeth are lost.
Whether your gum disease is stopped, slowed, or gets worse depends a great deal on how well you care for your teeth and gums every day, from this point forward.
What causes gum disease?
Our mouths are full of bacteria. These bacteria, along with mucus and other particles, constantly form a sticky, colorless “plaque” on teeth. Brushing and flossing help get rid of plaque. Plaque that is not removed can harden and form “tartar” that brushing doesn’t clean. Only a professional cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist can remove tartar.
Smoking: Need another reason to quit smoking? Smoking is one of the most significant risk factors associated with the development of gum disease. Additionally, smoking can lower the chances for successful treatment.
Hormonal changes in girls/women: These changes can make gums more sensitive and make it easier for gingivitis to develop.
Diabetes: People with diabetes are at higher risk for developing infections, including gum disease.
Other illnesses and their treatments: Diseases such as AIDS and its treatments can also negatively affect the health of gums, as can treatments for cancer.
Medications: There are hundreds of prescription and over the counter medications that can reduce the flow of saliva, which has a protective effect on the mouth. Without enough saliva, the mouth is vulnerable to infections such as gum disease. And some medicines can cause abnormal overgrowth of the gum tissue; this can make it difficult to keep teeth and gums clean.
Genetic susceptibility: Some people are more prone to severe gum disease than others.
How do I know if I have gum disease?
Symptoms of gum disease include:
Bad breath that won’t go away
Red or swollen gums
Tender or bleeding gums
Receding gums or longer appearing teeth
Any of these symptoms may be a sign of a serious problem, which should be checked by a dentist.
At your dental visit the dentist or hygienist should:
Ask about your medical history to identify underlying conditions or risk factors (such as smoking) that may contribute to gum disease.
Examine your gums and note any signs of inflammation.
Use a tiny ruler called a “probe” to check for and measure any pockets. In a healthy mouth, the depth of these pockets is usually between 1 and 3 millimeters. This test for pocket depth is usually painless.