Your gums are very important, but they often don’t get as much attention as your teeth. Nearly 50% of people 30 years and older have some form of gum disease (also called periodontal disease, gingivitis, or pyorrhea). Gum disease is the most common reason for tooth loss in adults.
Your gums are part of the scaffolding that holds up your teeth. They are the frames that your teeth fit into and protection for the bone underneath.
Healthy gums are a uniform light pink or coral color. Bright red gums are a sign of inflammation (gingivitis) caused by leftover plaque and bacteria. Inflamed, swollen, or glossy appearing gums are also a sign of gum trouble. Bleeding while brushing or flossing is often a sign of some form of gum disease. Unfortunately, gum disease is often painless until it reaches an advanced stage. By the time you feel pain, it may be too late to save some of your teeth.
Warning signs for gum disease:
- Gums that bleed easily
- Red, swollen, or tender gums
- Gums that have pulled away from your teeth (recession)
- Persistent bad breath or bad taste
- Permanent teeth that are loose or separating
- Any change in the way your teeth fit together
- Any change in the fit of your removable appliance
Poor brushing AND flossing is why bacteria get left behind. The bacteria first cause inflammation of your gums. Over time, your gum shrinks away from each tooth leaving the bone underneath vulnerable to erosion. Eventually, it becomes a vicious cycle. Your gum shrinks away, your bone erodes, the erosion allows more space for irritants to be trapped between your teeth and gums, so your gum shrinks away . . . and on and on.
Gingivitis is the earliest stage of gum disease. It is reversible with professional cleaning and good home care. Periodontitis or Periodontal Disease is the later stage of gum disease. It can be kept under control but there is no cure. Controlling the problem begins with professional cleanings, which may include “deep” cleanings or scaling and root planing. In some cases surgery is needed to improve the local environment. More frequent professional cleanings (called Periodontal Maintenance Cleanings) are needed for the rest of your life in order to keep the gum disease under control.
The worst case scenario is your bone becomes so compromised that your tooth falls out or has to be removed.
As your gum shrinks away from your tooth, it exposes the root surface. The root’s protective covering is thinner than that on the top part of your tooth. You may notice your teeth are sensitive to temperature (particularly cold) and/or your tooth roots may decay or develop a cavity and need to be filled.
Factors that increase your risk of developing gum disease:
- Smoking or chewing tobacco
- Defective restorations (fillings, crowns, etc.) and misaligned teeth that trap plaque
- Clenching or grinding teeth
- Poor diet (makes mouth less resistant to infection)
- Pregnancy or Birth Control Pills (increased hormone levels increase your gums’ sensitivity to toxins that start gum disease process)
- Systemic diseases that lower resistance to infections (diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and others)
- Medications (sterioids, anti-seizure medications, cancer therapy, calcium channel blockers and birth control pills)
Dentists diagnose gum disease by visual inspection (looking at color, shape, and texture of your gum tissue), periodontal probing (to check how much space is between your tooth & gum and mobility or movement of your teeth), and dental x-rays to see your bone levels.
The best defense against developing gum disease is to carefully and properly brush your teeth at least twice a day, floss them once a day, and see your dentist at the interval he or she recommends for you. Some studies show that a high intake of Omega 3s may help your body protect your gums (but this is not a substitute for good oral home care).
Your teeth are meant to last a lifetime. If you don’t already have gum disease, take steps now to make sure you don’t develop it. If you already have gum disease, make the decision to treat it and commit to keeping up with the professional cleaning visits to keep it controlled.
If you’d like to prevent gum disease or suspect you already have gum disease and do not have a dentist, we invite you to join our office. Call 440-960-1940.
Dr. Jennifer Robb is a general dentist with an office at 1320 Cooper Foster Park Rd., Lorain, OH 44053. www.drjrobb.com