According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about half of Americans have some degree of periodontitis (gum disease). Symptoms include swollen gums, red or purplish gums, gums that feel tender and bleed easily, receding gums, bad breath, loose teeth, pain while chewing, and new gaps between teeth. Left untreated, periodontitis is the leading cause of tooth loss in American adults. Fortunately, most cases are easy to prevent if you know and avoid the causes.
Gingivitis: How It All Starts
Plaque is a sticky, colorless substance that forms on your teeth. It’s caused by bacteria in the mouth, other microscopic substances, and mucous. Plaque is constantly building up on your teeth, but it usually causes little harm as long as you brush it away frequently.
If plaque is not removed regularly, it becomes a tough hardened substance full of bacteria called tartar. Brushing and flossing can remove plaque, but only professional dental cleaning can remove tartar.
Gingivitis begins when prolonged exposure to plaque and tarter causes the gums to become inflamed. Specifically, the part of your gum around the base of your teeth (called the gingiva) is affected first. Some milder symptoms of periodontitis like red and tender gums may arise at this time. Gingivitis is a mild gum disease that can often be cured with regular brushing, flossing, and dentist visits. At this point, no irreversible damage has taken place yet.
Progression to Periodontitis
Periodontitis develops when plaque builds up along and underneath the gum line for a prolonged period of time. At this point, inflamed gums swell and pull away from the teeth, creating pockets that fill with bacteria and get infected. The toxins produced by this bacteria, combined with the body’s natural immune response to bacterial infection, start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place. In severe cases, gum disease can cause irreversible damage to the alveolar bone, the large bone in the jaw that contains the tooth sockets.
Sometimes, periodontitis affects only certain teeth. In other cases, it affects the whole mouth.
Poor Dental Hygiene
By far the most common cause of gum disease is inadequate dental hygiene. The good news is, this makes periodontitis highly preventable… as long as you diligently take care of your teeth and gums.
Brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss at least once a day. Visit your family dental care for a check-up and cleaning every 6 to 12 months. If you have gingivitis or other risk factors of periodontitis, your dentist may recommend that you make appointments more often.
Presence or Treatment of Other Illnesses
Various autoimmune disorders can increase your risk of developing periodontitis. The presence and treatment of AIDS is a risk factor. Diabetes creates a higher likelihood of developing infections in general.
Treatment for cancer and other conditions that lower your immune system can make fighting plaque-related infections more difficult.
You need saliva to keep your teeth and gums clean. Thus, dry mouth can be a significant contributor to gum disease. Dry mouth is a potential side effect of many medications.
Other Risk Factors
Behind poor dental hygiene, smoking is the second biggest risk factor for periodontitis, and it can also hinder treatment. Chewing tobacco may have a similar effect.
Gum disease is more common in men than women. However, puberty, pregnancy, and menopause involve hormone changes that can make women’s gums more susceptible at those times.
A person’s genes also play a role in their risk of periodontitis. If your family has a history of gum disease, be extra alert for symptoms.
While you can treat gingivitis by yourself, periodontitis is a more serious condition that requires intervention from a professional like a family dentist. The sooner you visit a family dental care office in Houston, TX, about possible symptoms of periodontitis, the higher the likelihood of successfully treating it and preventing further damage.