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Early Signs of Gum Disease

Gum disease, also know as periodontal disease (periodontitis), begins with bacterial growth in your mouth. If not diagnosed and treated early on, it will result in bone destruction and long term tooth loss.

What's the Difference Between Gingivitis and Periodontitis?

  • Gingivitis defined as gum inflammation if untreated will lead to periodontitis. Most people get gingivitis at some point, and its mild symptoms make it easy to ignore. Gingivitis is preventable and reversible by simply maintaining good oral hygiene and having regular dental cleanings and checkups.

When you forget to brush and floss, food debris accumulates and creates a sticky film called plaque. After 72 hours, if unremoved, plaque hardens into tartar, which hardens around the gum line and makes it hard to remove. This buildup irritates and inflames your gums, causing gingivitis.

Overtime, if the tartar builds up further and traps enough bacteria, the supporting bone anchoring your teeth starts to break down. This process is called periodontitis, it is irreversible and results in pocket formation, spacing between your teeth and gum recession. Gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults.

What Causes Gum Disease? Plaque is the primary cause of gum disease. Other factors can contribute to periodontal disease:

  • Hormonal changes during pregnancy, puberty, menopause, and menstruation, can cause gum inflammation and bleeding (gingivitis).

  • Impaired immune system in patients with cancer, HIV, or uncontrolled diabetes increases their risk of infection and periodontal disease.

  • Medications can impact salivary production and flow increase the risk of gum disease.

  • Bad habits such as smoking impaire healing.

  • Poor oral hygiene habits on a daily basis, make it easier for gingivitis to develop.

  • Family history of dental disease can be a contributing factor for gum disease.

What Are the Symptoms of Gum Disease? Early onset of gum disease may progress painlessly showing few signs. The symptoms of gum disease include:

  • Gums that bleed during and after tooth brushing

  • Red, swollen gums

  • Persistent bad breath or bad taste in the mouth

  • Receding gums

  • Formation of deep pockets between teeth and gums

  • Loose or shifting teeth

  • Changes in occlusion

Even if you don't notice any symptoms, you may still have some degree of gum disease. In some people, gum disease may affect only certain teeth, such as the molars. Regular dental exam and cleaning are essential for early diagnosis of gum disease.

How Does My Dentist Diagnose Gum Disease? During a dental exam, your dentist typically checks for these things:

  • Gum bleeding, swelling, firmness, and pocket depth (the space between the gum and tooth; the larger and deeper the pocket, the more severe the disease)

  • Teeth movement and mobility

How Is Gum Disease Treated? The goals of gum disease treatment are to promote reattachment of healthy gums to teeth; reduce swelling, the depth of pockets, and the risk of infection; and to stop disease progression. Treatment options depend on the stage of disease. Options range from nonsurgical therapies that control bacterial growth to surgery to restore supportive tissues.

How Can Gum Disease Be Prevented? Gingivitis can be reversed in nearly all cases with proper plaque control. Proper plaque control consists of professional cleanings at least twice a year and daily brushing and flossing. Brush your teeth twice a day and floss every day. Use a soft-bristled brush and fluoride toothpaste. Replace your toothbrush every 3 months, or sooner if the bristles become frayed.

Other health and lifestyle changes can prevent gum disease. They include:

  • Stop smoking. Smokers are seven times more likely to get gum disease than nonsmokers, and smoking can lower the chances of success of some treatments.

  • Reduce stress. Stress may make it hard for your body's immune system to fight off infection.

  • Maintain a balanced diet. Bacteria in your mouth feed on sugars and starches from food, fueling them to release the acids that attack tooth enamel.

  • Avoid clenching and grinding your teeth. They put excessive forces on the supporting tissues of the teeth and increase the rate of tooth fracture and tooth loss.

Despite having good oral hygiene practices, those who are genetically predisposed may be up to six times more likely to get some form of gum disease. If you are more likely to have gum disease, your dentist or periodontist may recommend more frequent cleanings such as every 3 months. If it's been 6 months since you last saw the dentist, set up a cleaning to remove tartar and plaque buildup from your teeth. Ask your dentist about the proper way to brush.

Is Gum Disease Linked to Other Health Problems? In people with healthy immune systems, the bacteria in the mouth that makes its way into the bloodstream is usually harmless. But in immune compromised patients, these microorganisms are associated with health problems such as stroke and heart disease. Diabetes is not only a risk factor for gum disease, but gum disease may make diabetes worse.

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