February 3, 2010

Periodontal Disease (Gum Disease)

Periodontal or gum disease is an infection of the tissues that support your teeth. It is a top cause of tooth loss in adults. Gum disease is most often painless. That means you may not know you have it.

Your gum tissue is not attached to the teeth as high as it may seem. There is a small v-shaped space called the sulcus between the tooth and gums.

Gum diseases happen in the sulcus, where plaque causes the attachment of the tooth and its support tissues to break down. As the tissues break down, the sulcus becomes a pocket. In most cases, the worse the disease is, the deeper the pocket grows.

Gum diseases are classed by how severe they are. The two key stages are gingivitis and periodontitis. The first is a more mild and reversible form of gum disease that only affects the gums. At this stage, in most cases, the disease can be stopped through daily use of brush and floss.

In the more advanced stages of gum disease, called periodontitis, the gums and bone that support the teeth have more serious damaged. At this stage, teeth can grow loose or fall out, or they may have to be removed.

You may have gum disease and not know it. That is one reason why regular checkups are so important. Treatment depends on the type of disease as well as on how far it has gone. Good oral hygiene at home is vital. This helps keep gum disease from getting more serious or coming back.

Gum Disease Risk Factors and Warning Signs

Some things raise the risk for gum disease:

  • Smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Systemic diseases such as diabetes
  • Some types of drugs such as steroids,  cancer therapy drugs, some calcium channel blockers, and oral contraceptives
  • Bridges that no longer fit right
  • Teeth that are crooked
  • Fillings that have grown defective
  • Pregnancy or use of oral contraceptives

Some things that can be signs of a problem are:

  • Gums that bleed easily
  • Red, swollen, or tender gums
  • Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
  • Bad breath or a bad taste that won’t go away
  • Adult teeth that are loose or separating
  • A change in your bite
  • A change in the way partial dentures fit

What are the signs of periodontal (gum) disease?

If you see any of the signs of gum disease below, you should see your dentist right away:

  • Gums that bleed when you brush your teeth
  • Red, swollen or tender gums
  • Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
  • Bad breath that won’t go away
  • Pus between your teeth and gums
  • Loose teeth
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  • Change in the fit of partial denture

How can I prevent periodontal (gum) disease?

You don’t have to lose teeth to gum disease. You can help prevent it by taking good care of your teeth. Brush two times a day, floss between your teeth, eat a balanced diet, and have regular dental visits, and you can have a lifetime of healthy smiles.