Our teeth depend on the integrity of the soft tissues in our mouths known as our gums. These tissues protect the delicate roots of our teeth as well as the bones that support healthy teeth. Over time, especially in patients with poor oral hygiene habits, the gums can become inflamed, leading to a condition known as periodontal disease or periodontitis.
There are several forms of gum infections, each representing a serious condition that requires specialized dental treatment. In this article, we’ll go over the common causes of gum disease and then talk about gum disease treatments.
What is Gum Disease?
Gum disease can take several forms. The most common is a bacterial infection called periodontitis, which begins with gingivitis, or inflammation of the gum tissues. Gingivitis is caused by poor brushing and flossing habits, high intake of sugary or acidic foods, and failure to receive regular dental checkups. Left untreated, gingivitis can lead to the infection, resulting in swelling of the gums themselves and erosion of the support structures that anchor the teeth in place. It is a progressive disease and can ultimately result in lost teeth, requiring expensive dental implants or dentures to replace the lost teeth.
Other gum diseases include pericoronitis, or an infection around the wisdom teeth as they erupt from the gums. Bacteria and food particles can collect around the emerging teeth, leading to infection. A gum abcess from a dead tooth nerve is also a form of gum disease and is often caused by a tooth crack or severe cavity that allows the infection to spread to the tooth nerve.
What Are the Signs of Gum Disease?
In their early stages, gum diseases are characterized by swelling, tenderness, and changes in color of the gum tissues. Healthy gums are a light pink color, while irritated/infected gums can take on a red and angry appearance. Bleeding from the gums after brushing and flossing may also be signs of an infection. As the infection progresses, the patient may experience fevers and a pulling away of the gums from the tooth bases. Bad odors and increasing pain suggest advanced infections.
How is Gum Disease Treated?
The first thing the family dentist will do when presented with a patient experiencing the symptoms of gum disease is to carefully evaluate the situation and its underlying causes. During this evaluation, the dentist will measure any changes in the tooth support structures, including gums pulling away from the teeth or bone erosion below the gums.
Once the causes and severity of the gum disease are pinpointed, treatment can begin. Most cases of periodontitis are often treated with an advanced cleaning procedure called root planning and scaling, where built-up plaque and tartar are removed from the tooth surfaces below the gum line. The gums are numbed prior to planing and scaling to reduce patient discomfort. The goal of this procedure is to remove the bacterial contamination from critical mouth structures. The dentist may also prescribe antiseptic rinses or oral antibiotics to combat the infection.
Severe cases of periodontitis may require the intervention of a periodontist or gum specialist. In very serious cases, gum surgery may be necessary to correct the infection and the damage it has caused.
How Can I Prevent Gum Disease?
The best preventative for any form of gum disease is to adopt good oral hygiene practices. Daily brushing and flossing can reduce food particles, bacteria, and food acids that can damage teeth structures over time. Regular checkups at your family dentist office can also help keep your smile healthy. Call your family dentist today to schedule an appointment, and enjoy a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.