Healthier gums for a healthier life.
Have you ever heard the statement that it’s normal for your gums to bleed when you floss or brush your teeth? Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. While it may be common for you, your gums shouldn’t bleed during your oral hygiene routine. If this happens regularly, it’s a potential warning sign that you may be suffering from periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is surprisingly common, but it’s dangerous for both your oral and overall health. Protecting yourself from it can help you live a healthier, happier life.
We’ve put together a detailed breakdown of periodontal disease to help you understand its risks and what you can do to keep yourself healthy.
What is periodontal disease?
Periodontal disease is a gum infection caused by oral bacteria. At first, periodontal disease can present as a mild irritation that you might easily overlook or dismiss at home, but it can cause lasting damage to your gums, teeth, and even your overall health.
Stages of Periodontal Disease
In the earlier stages of periodontal disease, referred to as gingivitis, bacteria near the gum line begin attacking your gums, irritating them. As the condition worsens, the gum tissue begins to pull away from the surface of your teeth, allowing bacteria to slip underneath your gum line to attack the supporting structures and roots of your teeth. This stage of the disease is called periodontitis, and it’s the most dangerous form of gum disease. During mild to moderate periodontal disease, the gums begin to recede and deep pockets may form between your gums and teeth. As periodontitis becomes more severe, oral bacteria begin doing potentially irreversible damage to the supporting structures of your teeth. If it goes untreated, it will eventually lead to tooth loss.
The symptoms of periodontal disease vary depending on the stage, from incredibly mild and easy for you to miss to severe. Although severe periodontal disease can cause soreness, it is often completely painless until the later stages, which contributes to patients’ tendency to overlook it. That said, here are symptoms you should look out for:
- Irritated or swollen gums.
- Gums that bleed easily, including from flossing or brushing your teeth.
- Gums that have darkened in color, often to dark red or purplish.
- Persistent bad breath.
- Deep pockets between teeth and gums.
- Pus between teeth.
- Receding gums.
- Teeth that look longer than they used to.
- New gaps between teeth.
- A change in the way your teeth fit together.
- Loose teeth.
- Pain when chewing.
The great news is that your dental health team can spot gum disease in its earliest stages, which is just another reason it’s so important to see your dentist at least twice a year.
One of the major causes of periodontal disease is poor oral hygiene; when you’re not cleaning plaque from your gum line and preventing tartar buildup, oral bacteria is able to attack your gums, leading to gum disease. Having periodontal disease, however, doesn’t mean you have poor oral hygiene. There are several other risk factors that can increase your likelihood of getting periodontal disease. These include genetics, diet, obesity, hormonal changes, and pre-existing conditions like autoimmune diseases, leukemia, and diabetes. Medications that cause dry mouth or lower your immunity can also increase your likelihood of getting it, as can lifestyle choices like using any form of tobacco.
Skipping those regularly scheduled dental hygiene appointments will also put you at risk for periodontal disease.
The main way to prevent periodontal disease is to practice great oral hygiene. You should brush your teeth for two minutes twice a day, use a mouthwash once or twice a day, and floss at least once a day. Flossing is the only way to fully remove bacteria from your gum line, so don’t skip this step! Visiting your dentist at least twice a year is also vital, as your dentist is trained to spot early signs of gum disease. This gives you the best chance of stopping gum disease in its early stages—before it does lasting damage to your oral health. You can also help prevent gum disease by choosing to eat a healthier diet or quitting habits like smoking or chewing tobacco.
To diagnose periodontal disease, your dentist will check for signs of irritation, swelling, or bleeding in your gums. They’ll also measure the pocket depth of your gums with a dental probe, which they’ll insert below your gum line between your teeth and gums. If the pocket depth is deeper than it should be, this is a clear sign of periodontal disease. You may also need X-rays to check for signs of bone loss in the affected areas. If your X-rays show that you’re experiencing bone loss, this means you’re suffering from severe periodontitis and need immediate treatment. Left untreated, your periodontal disease will lead to tooth loss.
There are several methods available to treat periodontal disease, depending on the severity of your case. Gingivitis is the easiest type of periodontal disease to treat, and it usually disappears after just a week or two of committing to a thorough oral hygiene routine. There are antibacterial mouthwashes that are designed to help prevent and fight gingivitis, so using one of these can help you fight the infection more effectively. Your gums should recover and stop bleeding from stimuli like flossing after a couple of weeks, but you should keep up with your new oral hygiene routine and visit your dentist regularly to make sure that it doesn’t come back.
Periodontitis often requires more involved treatments, however, which can be nonsurgical or surgical. You’ll likely start with nonsurgical options like scaling and root planing first. Scaling uses a device like a laser to go beneath your gum line and remove bacteria from the surface of your tooth roots. Root planing, which is often done at the same time as scaling, smooths out the surface of your roots. This makes it harder for any bacteria that make it beneath your gum line to find a foothold. If you’re still struggling with periodontal disease, you may need a surgical treatment like flap surgery. During this treatment, your dentist makes a small incision in your gums that allows them to reach and clean your tooth roots more directly. You may also need a tooth extraction if one of your teeth has already suffered too much damage. Antibiotics are often prescribed for both gingivitis and periodontitis to help your body fight off the remainder of the oral bacteria.
Once your periodontal disease is under control, there are steps you can take to help prevent a reccurrence. These include paying extra attention to your oral hygiene, especially if you have risk factors that make you more likely to get gum disease again. Choosing a specialized antibacterial mouthwash can give your oral hygiene routine an extra punch, as can switching to an electric toothbrush. Electric toothbrushes do a great job of cleaning your teeth and generally prevent you from brushing too hard—a habit that can lead to gum recession. This isn’t ideal if you’ve already suffered gum recession from periodontal disease, so taking extra steps to prevent more is a wise move. You should also visit your dentist at least every six months and follow any additional advice they offer you closely.
Unfortunately, severe periodontal disease can have lasting effects on your oral and overall health. In addition to causing permanent tooth and bone loss, periodontal disease has the potential to cause receding gums and the formation of deep pockets between your teeth and gums. These deep pockets tend to collect food and bacteria more easily, which increases your likelihood of getting gum disease again if you don’t take a little extra effort to make sure they’re cleaned out.
Additionally, untreated periodontitis can lead to a number of overall health issues because it allows bacteria into your bloodstream, leading to chronic inflammation throughout the body. It can lead to increased blood pressure and can make it more likely that you’ll suffer from a stroke or heart attack. Periodontal disease also makes it harder to control diabetes, increases the risk that pregnant women will go into labor prematurely or give birth to low-birthweight babies, and can even increase your likelihood of suffering from respiratory illnesses if you inhale the bacteria. Any of these factors have the potential to spark a major health crisis that has lasting impacts on your life, making treating periodontitis more important than ever.
Restoring Damage from Periodontal Disease
Thankfully, there are treatments available to help repair the long-term damage that periodontitis can cause to your teeth, gums, and jaw. Deep pockets between your teeth and gums can be closed during flap surgery, bone loss can be improved through bone grafting, and receded gums can be restored using soft tissue grafts. Even missing teeth can be replaced with treatments like a dental bridge or tooth implant. If you’ve lost a tooth and would like an estimate for what a bridge or dental implant cost, you can schedule an appointment with your dentist. Our office can provide you with a price guide for your specific case, including an estimate of what your dental insurance plan is likely to cover.
When you lead a busy life, it might be tempting to ignore a pink-tinged toothbrush or even receding gums. It’s often not painful, so it doesn’t seem like a pressing issue. The truth is, however, that periodontal disease is a pressing issue—if left untreated, it can wreak havoc on your oral and overall health. Thankfully, taking steps to protect your gum health benefits your oral health as a whole, saving you the time, expense, and the potential pain of additional oral health issues and dental treatments in the future. If you believe that you’re experiencing symptoms of periodontal disease, don’t wait for your symptoms to get worse—call our office right away to schedule an appointment.