Everybody hopes to hear those two magic words at the end of a dental appointment: “no cavities.” However, just because one does not have a cavity does not mean he or she is in the clear. Another important factor that must be monitored at a dental appointment is the health of your gums.
So what is gum disease? It is an infection of the tissues and bones that surround and support the teeth. There are two types of gum disease, gingivitis and periodontitis. Both gingivitis and periodontitis are caused by bacteria found in plaque. Gingivitis is the initial reaction of the body to a prolonged period of plaque and bacteria sitting on the teeth and around the gums. In gingivitis, the gums become red and swollen and may become sensitive to brushing, flossing and even eating. Gingivitis is reversible and can be fixed with simple brushing and flossing twice a day.
If one does not clean the bacteria and plaque off the teeth and it continues to sit in the mouth, gingivitis will progress to periodontitis. Periodontitis is when the bacteria cause bone loss around the teeth; however, this will not happen overnight. It takes time for the gingivitis to turn to periodontitis. Over a long period of time, periodontitis can cause teeth to become loose, fall out or need to be pulled. Unlike gingivitis, periodontitis it is not reversible. Bone can’t be regrown and once it is lost, it is gone for good. This is why it’s important to stop periodontitis as soon as it begins, or better yet, prevent it.
How does something as little as bacteria cause such a big problem? Bacteria are constantly being introduced to your mouth and if they are not brushed away, they will collect on the teeth and around the gum line in colonies. The bacteria then make poisons or toxins that irritate the tissues and cause them to break down. With time, the gums will recede and bacteria can get under the gum line and reach the bone. A defense mechanism of the body is to move away from bacteria, so the body will break down its own bone to get as far away from the invaders as possible.
Who has gum disease?
- People are more likely to get gum disease if they:
- do not clean their teeth well
- smoke or chew tobacco
- have a condition that makes fighting infection harder such as uncontrolled diabetes, AIDS or leukemia
- have high levels of stress
- have a poor diet
It may be hard to tell if you have gum disease because in most cases, it is painless. Healthy gums should be pink, firm and fit snugly around the teeth. If your gums are swollen, tender, bleed easily, secrete pus or you notice bad breath, these are all signs of gum disease and it is important that you schedule an appointment with your dentist immediately. Remember to brush twice every day and floss once a day. If you suspect you have gum disease, visit your dental professional and stop gum disease in its tracks.