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Periodontal (Gum) Disease

illustration of three teeth: one is a healthy tooth, one is mildly affected by gingivitis, and the last one is severely affected by periodontitis

Periodontal, or gum, disease is a lot more common that one would think. Many people with gum disease don’t even know they have it, yet it is one of the main causes of tooth loss. Learning more about gum disease is important because it will allow you to take better care of your gums and hopefully prevent gum disease from occurring or spreading.

Gum disease is most commonly caused by excess plaque buildup. Plaque is composed of bacteria, and things like poor brushing and a lack of flossing can cause this bacteria to remain in your mouth. Although this is the most common cause of gum disease, there are other factors which may play a role as well, including: hormonal changes, illness like cancer or HIV, medications, bad habits like smoking, and a family history of dental or gum disease.

There are two main types of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis. Many people have heard of gingivitis, since it is mentioned in almost every toothpaste and mouthwash commercial. Gingivitis is the mildest form of gum disease and signals inadequate oral hygiene. It is usually characterized by red, swollen gums that easily bleed. Luckily, gingivitis can be easily remedied by a dentist.

If left untreated, gingivitis can easily evolve into periodontitis, which is a much more serious infection. The periodontitis toxins can spread below the gum line, causing an inflammatory response that results in the body attacking itself. Consequently, bone and tissues in this area are gradually weakened, resulting in tooth loss and permanent damage.

Both gingivitis and periodontitis have similar symptoms. The severity or amount of time one has had the symptoms determines the type of infection. Oftentimes, gum disease does not cause any pain, which is why many individuals do not realize that they even have it. Nevertheless, individuals with gum disease usually exhibit the following symptoms: gums that bleed easily, gums that are red or swollen, gums that have pulled away from the teeth, persistent bad breath or taste, loose permanent teeth, and changes in bite.

If your dentist suspects that you have gum disease, they will perform an exam that focuses on checking your gums. They will usually look for signs of easy bleeding, test the gum’s firmness, and assess the pocket depth to determine if the gums have receded. They will also evaluate your teeth for any looseness, as well as your jawbone.

Upon making a diagnosis of gum disease, your dentist will work to accomplish the following things: reattach healthy gums to the teeth, reduce swelling, reduce pocket depth, and reduce the risk of further infection. The specific treatment depends on the severity of the disease and how you respond to different treatment methods. Treatment for gum disease can range anywhere from a major tooth cleaning to surgical intervention that repairs damaged tissues such as pocket reduction surgery, bone grafts, soft tissue grafts, guided tissue regeneration, and bone surgery.

If you suspect you may have gum disease, it is important to make an appointment with your dentist immediately and discuss your concerns. Gum disease is relatively easy to treat early on, and you don’t want to wait until the disease progresses to seek treatment.

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