We all try to take care of our oral health as best we can but sometimes life gets in the way and our home routine suffers. That’s when any one of us could find ourselves facing the well-known issue of gum disease. After all, it’s one of the most common oral health afflictions in North America and one dentist around the country treat on a regular basis.
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What is gum disease?
Gum disease is characterized as an infection of the tissue or, in advanced cases, the bones that support our teeth. Gum disease is also commonly referred to as periodontal disease and separated into two main categories.
Gingivitis: this affects only the gums and the soft tissue that surrounds our teeth
Periodontitis: is more severe and spreads underneath our gums to damage the jawbone and tissue supporting our teeth
What causes gum disease?
Gum disease is typically developed when bacteria growing on your teeth and gums turns to plaque and then tartar. Plaque, a clear and sticky substance that coats our teeth and needs to be removed through cleaning is rich in bacteria. The bacteria feed off of sugars contained in the food you eat, generating toxins that irritate your gums. If left uncleaned, plaque will also harden into tartar which must be removed professionally and irritates your gums and causes them to recede from your teeth.
What are some common symptoms of gum disease?
Healthy gums will look pink, feel firm to the touch and fit snuggly around your teeth. Irritated gums may be red, swollen and tender to touch giving problems when eating and brushing. They will also bleed easily during brushing and especially flossing. These are more common signs of gingivitis.
The more serious condition of periodontitis goes some steps further. You might find that your gums are receding from your teeth, you have consistent bad breath, your gums are very irritated and leak pus or you might even notice loose teeth.
Common treatments for gum disease
Once it’s apparent that you’re dealing with gum disease, there are a number of different treatments that can be effective to combat it. Which treatments are best for you depends largely on what stage of gum disease you have and must be discussed with your dentist. The earlier you begin treatment, the easier it is to get your healthy mouth back. Treatment options include non-surgical options that control bacteria to surgeries that help restore your oral supportive tissues.
Non-surgical gum disease treatments and preventative methods
Proper cleaning at home
This is step one, and something you should really be paying attention to already. You need to brush your teeth at least twice per day, using a soft toothbrush, employing a top to bottom stroke technique, paying attention not to brush your gums but your teeth only. This method keeps your teeth clean while not irritating your gums with aggressive brushing. You can even brush or at least rinse your mouth after every meal to help keep irritating bacteria at bay. You should also be flossing daily to ensure that the tight spaces in-between your teeth remain as plaque free as possible.
Professional dental cleaning appointment
You know you’re supposed to visit your dentist at least every 6 months for professional dental cleaning, right? In case you didn’t know, now you do, so get an appointment made. Even the best at-home oral care routine will fall short in the long run as plaque and tartar can be impossible to get rid of without professional treatment. You’ll need a dental cleaning from your dental professional to remove it all and keep your smile as bacteria free as possible.
Scaling and root planning procedure
If plaque and tartar are an issue in your mouth, your dentist may recommend a scaling and root planning procedure. This is a non-surgical deep cleaning which is usually performed under a local an aesthetic. It allows plaque and tartar from above your gumline (underneath your gums) to be scraped away(scaling) and any rough patches on your teeth are smoothed out (planning). This process removes bacteria build-up and creates a smooth, clean tooth surface for your gums to adhere to.
Surgical gum disease treatments
There are a lot of potential surgical treatment options for gum disease so we’re just going to outline the most common and effective methods.
Pocket reduction / Flap surgery
First, a scaling and planning procedure is initiated. Your gums are lifted so that tartar can be removed from underneath, then any damaged areas are smoothed out before your gums are tucked into the proper positions to limit the space between tooth and gums where bacteria can grow.
Soft tissue grafts
Periodontal disease attacks your gums first, and a soft tissue graft can help restore your natural gum line. Tissue is often taken from the roof of your mouth and grafted (stitched) to areas of your gums that have receded and may be putting your oral bone structure at risk.
When unchecked periodontal disease has corrupted your bone structure, you might need a bone graft. This procedure uses fragments of bone, taken from another part of your body to replace sections of your jaw bone that have deteriorated. These bone grafts give a platform that promotes the regrowth of bone to stabilize your teeth. Bone grafts are also commonly associated with dental implants.
This procedure smooths out shallow craters in your jaw bone that have resulted due to moderate or advanced bone loss. The bone around your teeth is reshaped after cleaning to make it more difficult for bacteria to accumulate and to provide a better platform to anchor your teeth or implants.
Guided tissue regeneration
If the supporting bone in your mouth has deteriorated due to untreated periodontal disease, this procedure might be recommended. It starts with a pocket reduction/flap surgery procedure to stimulate bone and tissue growth. Then a small piece of mesh fabric is placed between your gums and the bone to stop the gum tissue from growing where the bone should go. This allows the bone to grow more effectively and regrow quicker to support your teeth.
Gum disease treatment with drugs
Sometimes, antibiotics can be used to treat advanced gum disease alongside surgery or another therapy. This type of treatment is used to temporarily reduce or eliminate bacteria growth in affected areas so your gums can regenerate to a healthy state.
You may also be prescribed an anti-microbial like ‘chlorhexidine’ which is a prescription only mouth wash used to treat gum disease.
A non-prescription toothpaste containing higher levels of fluoride and an antibiotic may be used to reduce plaque and gingivitis.
If you feel like you might be suffering from the early stages of gum disease, you should make an appointment with your dentist to have a look. Most often, a thorough cleaning and an advanced at-home oral care program are enough to clear up any oral infections, but sometimes, like in cases where the gum disease has advanced to periodontal disease, more advanced treatments may be prescribed. Visit your dentist asap and let hem make a professional diagnosis and gum disease treatment recommendations to get you back to living with a healthy mouth.