What is gum disease? How is it caused? How can it be prevented or treated? What are the consequences if left untreated? According to a study done by Harris Interactive Inc. 60 percent of the 1,000 adults surveyed could not answer these questions. This is unfortunate because gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults. Understanding the answers to these questions may help you keep your smile healthy for many years to come.
What is gum disease (aka periodontal disease)?
In short, it is an infection in the gums and bone surrounding the teeth. Harmful bacteria build up in a colorless sticky film called plaque. Plaque can develop on teeth and cause bleeding and irritation in the surrounding gums. If left untreated bone and connective tissue may be lost.
How is it caused?The infection will almost always start with a low level gum infection or gingivitis. This can be caused by a number of things, including poor home care, pregnancy, or interactions with medications that you may be taking. Left unchecked, bacterial tarter, also known as calculus, can start to build up under these already-inflamed gums. This then begins a cycle where infection causes bone loss, which in turn allows the tarter to get deeper under your gums.
What can I do about it?
The good news is that for most people gum disease is preventable. Brushing and flossing regularly coupled with routine exams can help you prevent gum disease or catch it in its early stages. These behaviors have also been shown to help reverse the effects of the early stages.
If you have already developed gum disease there are treatments available. The process involves a series of dental visits which center around a procedure called scaling and root planning. The aim of this therapy is to first remove the tarter from under your gums, and then to smooth out the root surfaces so that the tarter doesn’t re-form.
What are the consequences?
Left unchecked, gum disease can lead to nearly complete bone loss around the teeth, causing them to become loose or to fall out. It has also been shown to affect other parts of the body such as the heart and blood vessels. Unfortunately, it is common for symptoms to go unnoticed during the early and moderate stages of this infection making it very important to undergo regular screenings. These screenings should be included in regular check-ups with your dentist.
Like any chronic disease, it is best to catch periodontal infection in the early stages before too much damage has been done to the bone. If bone disease becomes severe it will cause irreversible damage to bone and connective tissue. This puts you at a higher risk for future recurrence. It is important to monitor your gums at regular intervals in order to keep your mouth healthy.
The bottom line: If you want to keep your teeth you need to take care of your gums.