While gum disease is common and treatable, it can lead to tooth loss and bone deterioration. Even more frightening, a growing body of research shows that gum disease may also contribute to the progression of more serious problems like diabetes and heart disease. The good news is you can take action to protect your gums and teeth and prevent periodontal disease. These daily tips will help you guard your smile and reduce the risk of adult tooth loss.
Types of gum disease
While gingivitis typically proceeds periodontitis, not all cases of gingivitis progress to the next level.
During early stage gingivitis, the bacteria in plaque begins to buildup in the mouth. Plaque – a sticky biofilm – clings to the surface of our teeth where it uses the sugars we consume to produce harmful acids. While these acids commonly contribute to the development of tooth decay and cavities, they can also irritate gum tissue.
Irritation from plaque can cause our gums to become inflamed and to bleed easily, especially after brushing and flossing. Even though our gum tissue may be irritated, red, swollen and bleeding, no permanent damage has occurred at this point. Our teeth remain firmly planted in their sockets, and the tissue and bone structure that hold them in place remains healthy and strong.
When gingivitis is left untreated – which happens when you don’t receive regular dental care – it can begin to advance into periodontitis.
Patients dealing with periodontitis have the inner layer of the gum and bone begin to separate away from the base of their teeth as pockets begin to form. These tiny spaces along the gum line become prime areas for the collection of food debris and bacteria. As a result, they commonly become infected. In response, the body’s immune system attempts to fight back against the infection as plaque continues to spread beneath the gum line.
Poisons or toxins – produced by the bacteria in plaque – begin to breakdown the connective tissue and bone that would normally hold our teeth into their sockets. As periodontitis continues to progress, the pockets begin to deepen and more gum tissue and bone structure are destroyed. When this occurs, teeth lose the support that helped anchor them in place so they become loose, before permanent tooth loss eventually occurs.
Periodontitis ranks as the leading cause of permanent tooth loss in adults.
The Causes of Gum Disease
While plaque ranks as the primary cause of gum disease, there are a few other factors that can contribute, including:
- Hormonal changes. Hormone changes that occur during times such as puberty, pregnancy and menopause can all contribute to the development of gum disease.
- Genetics. Some individuals have a genetic predisposition for the development of gum disease.
- Smoking. Individuals who smoke experience increased plaque growth combined with a weakened immune system.
While the factors above can all contribute the development of gingivitis, by far the most common reason patients develop gum disease is a lack of oral hygiene and preventative dental care.
Gum disease prevention
To avoid gum disease, a solid oral care regime is imperative – brush twice a day, floss at night, and use mouthwash. This is the familiar refrain, so let’s step away from that simple 3-step plan and look at other ways to prevent gum disease.
Gingivitis and its advanced cousin, Periodontal disease, are silent offenders. Most often, you may not even know you should be concerned. After all, the serious problems take place beneath your gum line where you can’t see them.
What’s worse is that a growing number of scientists believe that plaque and gum disease can also influence and exacerbate conditions like heart disease and stroke – certainly conditions we do not want to encourage by a lack of attention to good oral hygiene. So with no further ado, here are easy things you can do to help protect your mouth from gum disease.
Floss every day
Routine oral care is the most effective way to prevent tooth decay and gum disease. Along with brushing before bed and after every meal, it’s important to floss at least once a day. Despite this, surveys find just 13.5% of adults floss every day. Flossing works by removing food particles and plaque between your teeth and along the gum line that your toothbrush can’t reach. This plaque and bacteria can eventually build up and infect your teeth and gums.
One study showed what dentists have said all along: brushing alone is not enough. A study of twins found that flossing twice a day along with brushing reduced gum bleeding, an early sign of gum disease, by 40% more than brushing alone in just two weeks. The study found flossing produced fast results in improving not only gum bleeding but also bad breath.
Mouthwash doesn’t just freshen your breath; swishing your mouth with an antiseptic mouthwash twice a day can help stop gingivitis and gum disease. Antiseptic or antimicrobial mouthwash can kill 99% of the bacteria in your mouth for up to twelve hours while reducing the level of plaque on your teeth. This can help prevent bacteria from infecting your gums and teeth.
Eat More Chicken
This is more than just a prominent fast food slogan. Consuming more chicken, as well as other meats, cheeses, nuts, and milk does a body good. All are believed to provide your teeth with calcium and phosphorous needed to remineralize enamel after it’s been bombarded by the acids that cause tooth decay.
Eat more Veggies
Everyone knows we need more vegetables in our diets. Our waistlines and our teeth love them for their water content, as well as their vitamin and mineral profiles. There’s no doubt about it, veggies are good for you. Not a big fan? Incorporate them into soups, or in a great fruit smoothie … you won’t notice the difference, but your teeth and gums will.
Try a toothbrush that moves
Get adventurous and test out an electronic toothbrush that’s been endorsed by the American Dental Association (ADA). These toothbrushes are more effective than you’ll ever be at removing plaque and bacteria, and will protect your gums from aggressive brushing.
Keep that saliva flow going after a meal with sugar-free gum that contains Xylitol — a natural sweetener derived from plants. It doesn’t break down like sugar, and can help keep a neutral pH level in the mouth.
If you want to avoid Aspartame in your Xylitol chewing gum, search online or ask your dentist. It’s difficult to find gum without Aspartame these days, but such a product does exist.
That’s right, getting braces can help protect you from gum disease. Crooked teeth are great enablers of tooth decay, which can lead to gum disease by allowing bacteria and plaque to colonize in the areas where your teeth are not aligned. Getting your teeth aligned eliminates these hideouts where your toothbrush cannot reach, all while straightening your smile at the same time.
This one is always worth mentioning. Smoking is always bad for your body, your gums, and your teeth.
Get More Vitamin C
Vitamin C deficiency has been found to be one of the leading causes of gum disease. Eating more oranges, strawberries, kiwis, or even Vitamin C supplements can help boost your resistance against gum disease. Vitamin C has healing properties that can help stop gums from bleeding and swelling—common gum disease symptoms.
Eat a Balanced Diet
Not only is a balanced diet good for your smile, but it can help improve overall health. Be sure to stay away from sugary foods and drinks that can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. A balanced diet filled with vitamins and minerals will boost your immunity and help prevent gum disease.
Before putting something in your grocery cart, be sure to check the nutritional information on the package. Many of the foods and drinks we believe to be healthy can contain high levels of sugar like fruit juices and sports drinks.
While it may seem weird to think about, saliva is one of our best natural defenses against dental plaque. After you eat a meal, your body produces more saliva to wash away plaque and food particles. To maintain a healthy smile, make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day. Also, keep in mind that certain drinks (like coffee and alcohol) can dehydrate you.
Get an annual cleaning
Regular, professional dental cleanings at your dentist’s office can remove the hard tartar and plaque buildup on your teeth before it can lead to gum disease. These routine cleanings can also help reverse the early stages of gingivitis. If you have signs of gum disease, your dentist may recommend you have a cleaning more than twice a year.
Is gum disease reversible?
Periodontal disease damages the bone, which is not reversible. Once it starts, you will always have it.
All levels of periodontitis require treatment by a dentist. A mild case can typically be managed by a general dentist using non-surgical treatments. Moderate to severe cases require management by a periodontist and typically require surgery to save as many teeth as possible.
Your periodontal disease will always need management, but can go into remission with appropriate treatment.
Catching the disease as early as possible is critical to prevent it from spreading and creating further destruction. Regular periodontal exams can proactively detect the disease, even if you have no symptoms.
Treatment is unique to each patient based on the nature and extent of their periodontal disease. A common treatment method, known as scaling and root planing, removes plaque, tartar, and harmful bacteria above and below the gumline. To improve the aesthetics of your smile that’s been damaged by periodontal disease, we offer cosmetic periodontal surgery. This includes:
- Crown lengthening: Removes excess gum tissue (which gives teeth a shorter appearance).
- Soft tissue grafting:Covers damaged tooth roots and reduces further gum recession.