Learning to brush your teeth is a right of passage for all children. We’re told about the importance of brushing your teeth twice a day and going to the dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups. However, you may not have understood the importance of good oral hygiene, and not just because of your teeth. Maybe you still don’t understand the connection between your teeth and the rest of your body. Actress and talk show host, Whoopi Goldberg, understands. Now. A few years ago, Ms. Goldberg publicly acknowledged her struggle with periodontal (gum) disease on her show, The View, after she underwent emergency gum surgery. By discussing her oral health, Whoopi Goldberg is one of the first celebrities to advocate the connection between oral health and your overall wellbeing. She also informed her audience that she might lose her teeth because the infection is eroding her jawbone. Dentists around the country have lauded Whoopi Goldberg for advocating gum disease awareness and prevention. There are many other celebrities that are in need of significant dental care.
What is Gum Disease?
Periodontal disease, commonly referred to as gum disease, happens when bacteria builds up in your mouth around and below the gum line. If left untreated, this build up can cause inflammation and bleeding of the gums (gingivitis) and tooth decay, ultimately leading to tooth loss and deterioration of the gums and even the jawbone.
How Gingivitis Leads to Gum Disease
As we discussed above, gingivitis is the result of bacteria that builds up in the gums. If left untreated, gingivitis can and often does advance to full-blown periodontal disease. This happens in a process over time, according to WebMD. 1
Step 1: The inner layer of the gum and bone pull away from the teeth, causing small pockets to form.
Step 2: The pockets begin to collect food particles, leading to infections below the gum line. You can’t see the infection or feel any difference at first.
Step 3: The body’s immune system tries to fight off the infections below the gum line.
Step 4: Toxins from the bacteria begin to erode your jawbone and other tissue that hold your teeth in place.
Step 5: The pockets deepen and more gum tissue and jawbone are destroyed.
Step 6: Without the anchor for your teeth eroding, your teeth can become loose and fall out.
Step 7: Get ready for dentures or dental implants.
What Causes Gum Disease?
We already discussed plaque buildup as the main cause of gingivitis and the resulting periodontal disease. However, gum disease can be caused by other things:
- Hormonal changes as a result of pregnancy, puberty, menopause and menstruation
- Illnesses such as cancer, HIV and diabetes can interfere with the immune system, leading to gum disease.
- Mediations that result in a lack of saliva can have an affect oral health and the gums. Other drugs can cause abnormal growth of the gums.
- Smoking makes it harder for your gums to fight off disease.
- Poor oral hygiene is a common culprit. If you do not brush, floss and visit the dentist at least 2 times a year, you can expect gingivitis and its more serious cousin, periodontal disease, to develop.
- Family history of dental disease is another factor, which unfortunately, you cannot control.
Gum Disease and Your Overall Health
Oral health and your health in general are intrinsically linked. Aside from tooth loss, gum disease can lead to all kinds of serious health conditions. Gum disease poses a serious risk to overall health if the infection enters the bloodstream.
“According to the CDC, researchers have uncovered potential links between gum disease and other serious health conditions…under certain circumstances, 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.” 1
Other emerging research also links gum disease to heart attack and Alzheimer’s.
Here’s the scariest fact about gum disease: Once it progresses, it cannot be cured. However, the condition is treatable with professional deep cleaning procedures and a meticulous oral hygiene regimen.
The Symptoms of Gum Disease
Gum disease can progress without you even being aware that it is happening. The occasional bleeding gums when you brush your teeth might not alarm you, but it can be a signal of a larger problem.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of gum disease:
- Gums that bleed during or after brushing your teeth
- Red, swollen or tender gums
- Persistent bad breath or bad taste in the mouth
- Receding gums
- Formation of pockets between the teeth and gums
- Loose of shifting teeth
- Changes in your bite or alignment problems
- Problems with the fit of dentures
How is Gum Disease Diagnosed?
Gum disease is usually detected during a regular dental exam. Your dentist will check for signs such as bleeding gums, inflamed gums, movement of the teeth or loose teeth, alignment or bite problems, and signs of deterioration of the jaw bone.
How is Gum Disease Treated?
Although gum disease itself cannot be “cured” there are treatments that can help preserve healthy teeth and keep you from losing them.
“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.” 1
According to WebMD, treatment options will depend on the stage of the disease but can include: 2
Nonsurgical therapies to control bacteria growth:
- Dental cleaning, scaling & root planing
- Flap surgery/pocket reduction surgery – the gums are lifted and tarter removed. The gums are set back in place and made to fit snugly around the teeth.
- Bone grafts – Fragments of your own bones, synthetic materials or donated bones are done to restore stability to teeth.
- Soft tissue grafts – This procedure reinforces thin gums and fills in the pockets that have developed.
- Guided tissue regeneration – This procedure stimulates bone and gum tissue growth
- Bone surgery – This advanced procedure is done to smooth craters. Once completed, the bone around the tooth is reshaped to decrease the craters and provide a stable foundation for the teeth.
Antibiotic treatments and medications are often used in conjunction with many of these procedures in order to get rid of the infections.
Protect Yourself from Gum Disease
The best way to prevent gum disease is to visit the dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups. Dr. James Fondriest and our team look for signs of gum disease during your annual dental examinations. In addition to visiting the dentist regularly, you should adopt a thorough oral hygiene regimen. Be sure to floss your teeth everyday and brush your teeth at least twice a day for two minutes each time. For more information on gum disease or to schedule an appointment at our Chicago dentist office, contact Lake Forest Dental Arts at (847) 234-0517. We serve patients in the Chicago Metro area, including the Northwest suburbs and the North Shore, though we frequently see individuals from all over the United States.