Gum disease is an infection of the tissues that surround and support your teeth. It is a major cause of tooth loss in adults. Because gum disease is usually painless, you may not know you have it. Also referred to as periodontal disease, gum disease is caused by plaque, the sticky film of bacteria that is constantly forming on our teeth. Plaque that is not removed with thorough daily brushing or cleaning between teeth can eventually harden into calculus or tartar. It is an extremely common disease. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, half of adults age thirty and older suffer from some form of gum disease.
Being cavity-free doesn’t ensure you are in the clear where gum disease is concerned. That’s because gum disease is painless and many people have no ide that they have it. However, it doesn’t mean that you will lose your teeth if you have gum disease. You don’t have to lose any of your teeth to gum disease if you practice good oral hygiene. Even if you are diagnosed with gum disease, your dentist can design a treatment plan to help you keep it under control.
Warning signs that can signal a problem include:
- Gums that bleed easily
- Red, swollen, tender gums
- Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
- Persistent bad breath or bad taste
- Permanent teeth that are loose or separating
- Any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
- Any change in the fit of partial dentures
Some factors increase the risk of developing gum disease, such as:
- Poor oral hygiene
- Smoking or chewing tobacco
- Crooked teeth that are hard to keep clean
- Medications, including steroids, certain types of anti-epilepsy drugs, cancer therapy drugs, some calcium channel blockers, and oral contraceptives
See your dentist if you suspect you have gum disease, because the sooner you treat it, the better. The early stage of gum disease is called gingivitis. If you have gingivitis, your gums may become red, swollen, and bleed easily. At this stage, the disease is still reversible, and can usually be eliminated by a professional cleaning at your dentist’s office, followed by daily brushing and flossing.
Keep in mind that bleeding gums during pregnancy isn’t necessary normal. While it’s true that some women develop a condition known as “pregnancy gingivitis,” it is not true that everyone experiences this. You can help prevent this condition by taking extra care during your brushing and flossing routine. Your dentist may recommend more frequent cleanings in addition in order to prevent this.
Bad breath is another big indicator of gum disease. Persistent bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth can be an indicator of not just gum disease, but plenty of other oral diseases, so it is important that you uncover what is causing the problem. If you constantly have bad breath, make an appointment to see your dentist. Regular checkups allow your dentist to detect any problems, as your bad breath may also be the sign of a medical disorder.
Advanced gum disease is called periodontitis. Chronic periodontitis affects 47.2 percent of adults in the United States. It can lead to the loss of tissue and bone that support the teeth and it may become more severe over time. If it does, your teeth will feel loose and will start moving around in your mouth. This is the most common form of periodontitis in adults, but can occur at any age. It usually gets worse slowly, but there can be periods of rapid progression.
Aggressive periodontitis is a highly destructive form of periodontal disease that occurs in patients who are otherwise healthy. Common features include rapid loss of tissue and bone, and may occur in some areas of the mouth, or the entire mouth.
Research between systemic diseases and periodontal diseases is ongoing. While a link is not conclusive, some studies indicate that severe gum disease may be associated with several other health concerns, such as diabetes or stroke.
It is possible to have gum disease and have no warning signs. That is one reason why regular dental checkups and periodontal examinations are very important. Treatment methods depend on the type of disease, and how far the condition has progressed. Good dental care at home is essential to help keep periodontal disease from becoming more serious, or reoccurring.
Remember: you don’t have to lose teeth to gum disease. Brush your teeth twice a day, clean between your teeth daily, eat a balanced diet, and schedule regular dental visits for a lifetime of healthy smiles.