Preventing Gum Disease through Increased Awareness

Studies carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal almost half of American adults suffer from periodontal disease. Among those ages 65 and older, the number jumps to more than 70 percent. While this issue can’t always be avoided entirely, it’s considered one of the nation’s most preventable conditions.

What Causes Gum Disease?

Our mouths naturally contain considerable amounts of germs; on top of that, the foods and beverages we take in add more bacteria and other elements to the mix. These microscopic bits and pieces fuse together to form a sticky substance known as plaque. You can’t see it, but it’s the rough coating you can feel when you run your tongue over your teeth in the mornings.

Eventually, plaque becomes tartar. This harder substance is clearly visible and appears as a yellowish or brownish stain. It starts at the gumline and spreads over time.

All the bacteria, sugars and other potentially harmful factors contained in plaque and tartar can cause inflammation of the gums, or gingivitis, which is the earliest stage of periodontal disease. From there, the condition only worsens without prompt treatment.

While lack of proper oral hygiene, like brushing and flossing regularly and routine visits to the dentist, is the most common cause of gum disease, it’s not the only one. Certain other issues have also been linked to an increased risk of developing this condition.

  • Misaligned Teeth: If your teeth aren’t straight, recesses and overlaps make brushing properly a particularly difficult feat. Those hard-to-reach spaces leave plenty of room for plaque and tartar to take over. Though flossing helps reduce your risk, professional cleanings are your best line of defense in this type of situation.
  • Smoking: Smoking tends to interfere with circulation; by extension, it hampers healthy cell production and the body’s ability to heal as quickly and completely as it should. Because of this, smokers are especially vulnerable to inflammation and infections caused by bacteria in the mouth.
  • Hormonal Changes: During puberty, pregnancy and other times of hormonal fluctuation, blood vessels in the gums become slightly enlarged. As a result, those experiencing these issues are more susceptible to the effects of oral bacteria.
  • Poor Diet: Getting the full range of essential nutrients is vital to every aspect of physical and mental well-being, and healthy teeth and gums are no exception to the rule. Eating a well-balanced diet can go a long way toward staving off gum infections and degradation.
  • Certain Medications: Saliva does its part to break down food particles and keep bacteria levels at a minimum. Medications known to cause dry mouth hinder the process, giving bacteria ample opportunity to thrive and lead to serious infections.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes brings about issues with circulation as well as the immune system, leaving those suffering from this condition more defenseless against infection. At the same time, high blood sugar levels transfer to saliva, giving bacteria a perfect medium for growth. This is essentially a double-edged sword when it comes to developing gum disease.

Aside from all these factors, some people are just more genetically predisposed to periodontal disease than others. If others in your family suffer from this condition, you may be at greater risk of following suit as well. While those in this category should place extra emphasis on prevention, the typical steps alone may not be enough to keep it at bay.

Symptoms of Gum Disease

In the earliest stages, telltale signs of gum disease include swollen or tender gums. Gums may bleed after brushing in spite of being gentle and using a soft-bristled brush. You may also begin to taste blood when you eat. Additional symptoms include:

  • Mouth sores
  • Bad breath that won’t go away even after brushing or using mouthwash
  • Teeth not fitting together as they normally would
  • Pus pockets developing in the gums
  • Tooth and gum pain while eating
  • Loose teeth

As the condition progresses, you may also begin to notice your teeth looking longer than they once did or wider gaps forming between them. This is actually your gums receding. Without treatment, teeth will ultimately fall out and the jawbone will lose its structural integrity. In addition to affecting the teeth and gums, some studies point to a link between periodontal disease and certain heart, lung and joint issues possibly caused by bacteria from the gums entering the bloodstream.

Periodontal Disease Prevention

In most cases, preventing periodontal disease is as simple as brushing and flossing regularly, visiting the dentist every six months and putting aside the cigarettes and eating well. Following a wholesome diet also helps keep the condition from developing or worsening.

Calcium is vital for strong teeth and bones while vitamin D helps you better absorb this mineral. Vitamin C is known for boosting the immune system, so it can help fight off gum infections. Beta-carotene, or Vitamin A, aids in the healing process whereas catechins found in apples, peaches, grapes, strawberries and other foods are said to slow bacteria growth. Being sure to take in ample amounts of these nutrients can certainly promote healthy gums, reduce the risk of infection and speed healing times.

If medications that cause dry mouth are part of your daily regimen, be sure to keep a bottle of water on hand and consider using a moisturizing mouthwash. For those with additional outside risk factors, though, intervention by a periodontist is the safest and most effective course of action.

Treating Gum Disease

If caught in its earliest stages, periodontal disease treatment may be as simple as a professional cleaning and paying more attention to oral hygiene moving forward. For more advanced cases, scaling and root planing may be in order. In this procedure, your periodontist will scrape away persistent plaque and tartar up to the gumline. Then, the tooth roots will be smoothed out to encourage gum tissue to reattach to them.

Should tooth loss already be an issue, further measures will be necessary. Lost teeth can be replaced with dental implants as long as the jawbone remains healthy and sound. If loss of bone tissue has occurred, this can be treated through reshaping or regeneration. Following successful repairs of the bone tissue, dental implants may still be a possibility.

In a Nutshell

Though improper oral hygiene is the most common cause of periodontal disease, genetics and certain health conditions and medications do play a role. Some measures can be taken at home to prevent its development, but seeking help from a periodontist may be necessary especially when outside risk factors are at work.

Catching gum disease in its earliest stages makes for much less extensive treatment, but the condition can typically be remedied to an extent even in its most advanced form.

At Gulfside Periodontics, we’re dedicated to helping people in Ocean Springs, MS prevent the onset of periodontal disease. In those cases where even the greatest attention to preventative measures isn’t effective, we offer a wide range of treatments designed to help reverse the impacts and foster oral health. Contact us for a consultation, and let us help you battle this extremely common condition.