If you are in your 30’s or 40’s and have been told that you have periodontal disease, you're not alone. Many adults in the U.S. currently suffer from some form of this disease. It all starts with innocuous plaque. This is a sticky film of bacteria along with mucous and other particles that clings to the surface of your teeth and gums. Plaque that you have not managed to completely remove within 48 hours hardens into a rough deposit called tartar. Tartar below the gum line causes inflammation and infection. This process is painless, but it marks the beginning of periodontal disease.
Thia painless inflammation is called gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease that can usually be reversed with daily brushing, flossing, and regular cleaning by a dental hygienist. Left untreated, gingivitis can advance to periodontitis, or inflammation around the tooth. In periodontitis, the gums pull away from the teeth and form spaces called pockets that become infected. Bacterial toxins and the body's natural response to infection begin breaking down the bone and connective tissue that hold the teeth in place. The teeth may become very sensitive to temperature changes, or new cavities can develop. If not treated, the bones, gums, and tissue that support the teeth are destroyed. The teeth may eventually have to be removed.
Symptoms of periodontal disease include:
- Sustained bad breath or bad taste in the mouth
- Red or swollen gums
- Tender or bleeding gums
- Painful chewing
- Loose teeth
- Sensitive teeth
- Receding gums or longer-looking teeth
Risk factors for periodontal disease include smoking, hormonal changes in girls or women, diabetes, medicines that inhibit saliva or cause abnormal gum overgrowth, illnesses like cancer and HIV infections, stress, pregnancy, birth control pills, and genetic susceptibility.
To prevent periodontal disease, brush and floss your teeth twice a day, visit the dentist regularly for check-ups and professional cleaning, eat a well balanced diet, and don’t smoke.
Periodontal disease is treated with the removal of plaque through a deep-cleaning method called scaling and root planing. Scaling means scraping off the tartar from above and below the gum line. Root planing gets rid of rough spots on the tooth root where the germs gather, and helps remove bacteria that contribute to the disease. In some cases, a laser may be used to remove plaque and tartar. Antimicrobial medications to control the infection may also be used along with scaling and root planning.
Periodontal surgery (called flap surgery) may be required if the disease has progressed and inflammation and pockets still remain following scaling and planning. This common surgery involves lifting back the gums and removing the tartar. The gums are then sutured back in place to fit snugly around the tooth again. In addition to this, bone and tissue grafts may be used.
Whether your gum disease has stopped, slowed down, or will eventually worsen, will depend mostly on how well you care for your teeth and gums every day, from this point onward.
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