Did you know that some 50 percent of Americans will develop gum disease at some point in their lives? You may be one of them.
Gum disease is caused by the buildup of a sticky, invisible film called plaque. When the bacteria that live in the mouth interact with the sugar in our foods, plaque forms. It tends to accumulate right where the gums meet the teeth.
Thorough brushing and flossing will remove plaque, but it begins to re-form within 24 hours. That’s why we always advise patients to brush at least twice a day, every day, and floss at least once.
Sometimes, brushing and flossing don’t remove all the plaque and it begins to build up around one or more teeth. The tissues of the gums get irritated and can become puffy or swollen instead of firm. The gum tissue also changes color, from a healthy pink to a dusky red or purple. The gums may begin to recede from the teeth, and there may be a foul taste or a bad odor in your mouth.
If your gums bleed when you brush or floss, there are three possible explanations. The first is that you’re brushing way too hard, which is bad for the gums and for the enamel on your teeth. Ease off the pressure and brush for a longer time if needed.
The second is that you’re using a toothbrush with bristles that are too hard. That alone may not cause gums to bleed unless you’re still using too much pressure. With the harder bristles, though, it doesn’t take as much extra force to cause problems.
The third explanation is that you have the beginning stages of gum disease, called gingivitis. Puffy, irritated gum tissue is fairly fragile, so even when brushing with a soft-bristled brush you can break the surface and cause bleeding.
When plaque forms below the gumline, it can harden into something called tartar. Tartar is much more difficult to remove and also makes a great home for the bacteria that are causing problems in the first place.
When caught early, the treatment for gingivitis is fairly quick and easy in most cases. A thorough professional cleaning will remove all traces of plaque around the teeth and below the gumline. That will allow your gums to heal. You’ll probably be asked to come back for a recheck (and cleaning, if indicated) every three months.
Why so often? If tartar below the gumline gets into the underlying tissues and bone, it can cause infection and decay. This more advanced stage is called periodontitis, and it’s a major cause of tooth loss. If you’ve developed gingivitis once, it makes sense to keep a close eye on it the state of your teeth and gums.
If periodontitis develops, things get a little more complicated. By that stage, the bacteria-loaded tartar has reached the roots of one or more teeth and possibly the jaw. Pockets of infection may have formed. Treatment has to go deep below the gumline to clean all of that out.
Through a process known as scaling and root planing, the tartar below the gumline is removed. One the tartar and the bacteria it contains are removed, the gums can begin to heal. Depending on the method chosen for the procedures, the process can result in some pain. Typically, only a quarter of the jaw will be done at one time, although this can vary.
Periodontal disease that’s left untreated can cost you teeth and cause bone loss. There’s also evidence that long-term dental infections are linked to heart problems. That’s why all of us at Tulip Tree Dental Care take brushing, flossing, and checkups so seriously.
Most gum disease results from inadequate oral hygiene. Some people, though, are predisposed by genetics to develop gum disease. Certain medications can also make you vulnerable, as can smoking and poor diet. Diabetes and immune system problems may play a role.
Some of those factors are beyond your control, but it makes sense to control the ones you can. Talk with your medical doctor about any prescribed medications. If you smoke, stop. If you’re diabetic, work closely with your doctor to keep it under control.
Above all, though, your toothbrush and your floss are your best weapons against gum disease. How often you use those weapons, and how well, are entirely up to you.
If your gums are swollen, receding, or bleed, don’t wait. Call 574-208-5668. today to schedule an examination. Remember: when caught early, gum disease treatment is usually quick and simple.