Gum Disease: Diagnosis and Treatment and Its Impact on General Health
Our dentist in Encino often finds that people are focused on having a healthy white smile and gum health is overlooked. Your teeth need healthy and strong gums to protect them and to hold them in place. If you take a look at your gums, they should be pale pink, will feel firm to touch and should fit tightly around your teeth. If they don’t quite look like this, it is possible you could have gum disease.
Gum disease is a potentially serious condition that is a major cause of tooth loss and even worse, it can affect your general health. This is why we recommend people come to see us at six monthly intervals as when caught in its early stages, gum disease is completely curable. The two main stages of gum disease are gingivitis and periodontitis, both of which are caused by bacterial infection and this is usually due to oral hygiene being a bit lax. The warm moist environment in your mouth is ideal for bacteria to thrive.
What Is Gingivitis?
Gingivitis is caused by bacteria contained in a sticky biofilm known as plaque. You might be able to feel this layer of plaque if you run your tongue over your teeth at the end of a very long day. Plaque can quickly build up on, and in between your teeth and gums, and will soon multiply if not removed by regular brushing and flossing. The bacteria in plaque feed on the sugars found in foods and drinks. Unless removed, plaque will harden into a substance called tartar within just a couple of days. Tartar is incredibly hard and can only be removed during a professional cleaning.
Plaque and tartar produce toxins that will gradually inflame your gums. Symptoms include gums that may look red, swollen or which feel tender and you may notice they begin to bleed when you brush or floss. These early signs are often overlooked which is why gum disease is sometimes called a silent disease. The good news is that gingivitis is easily treatable, but ignoring these initial symptoms can allow gingivitis to progress into a much more serious condition called periodontitis.
What Is Periodontitis?
Initially your immune system can deal with the bacterial levels in your mouth, but as the bacteria multiply, your body’s defenses will find it harder to fight back and these bacteria will begin to invade not only your gum tissue but also the structures surrounding your teeth, including the ligaments attaching your teeth to the bony sockets as well as the actual tooth sockets. At this stage you may begin to notice your gums bleed more freely, you might have a persistent bad taste, and your teeth could begin to look longer than before as your gums pull away from your teeth causing pockets to form in between your teeth and gums. If periodontitis is quite advanced, your teeth may have begun to loosen, affecting the way they bite together. Advanced periodontitis isn’t curable, but we can provide ongoing treatment to help control this condition and to prevent further damage to your dental health.
Diagnosing Gum Disease
Our dentist can easily diagnose gum disease during a checkup. To do this she uses a special probe to very gently assess the depth of any gum pockets in between your teeth and gums. There is no need to be concerned as this test should be painless. Healthy gums have a depth of between 1 mm and 3 mm and the presence of deeper pockets of 5mm or more can indicate gum disease. Deeper gum pockets can be very difficult to keep clean, allowing bacteria to thrive. If you do have deep gum pockets then we may also wish to take some x-rays to see if the infection has affected the bone surrounding your teeth.
Treating Gum Disease
Treatment will depend on whether you have gingivitis or periodontitis and will help reduce the numbers of bacteria in your gums. The earliest symptoms of gingivitis can sometimes be treated simply by having your teeth professionally cleaned, a process known as scaling and polishing and which you are probably already familiar with. A hygienist will carefully scale or scrape away all the tartar on your teeth, as removing the bacteria that produce toxins will give your gums a chance to heal. Afterward, we can talk to you about ways to improve your oral hygiene at home, particularly if you are missing out certain areas during brushing and flossing. If you have signs of periodontitis, then we will recommend deep cleaning your gums during a process called deep scaling and root planing.
Scaling and Root Planing
This is a non-surgical treatment that can be highly effective in helping to reduce the bacterial infection in your gums. If your gums are quite tender, then we can use a local anesthetic to keep you comfortable. The purpose of scaling and root planing is to thoroughly deep clean your teeth as well as any tooth root surfaces that have become exposed due to gum recession. During this treatment, your teeth will be gently scaled or scraped, as will any exposed tooth roots. Once all the tartar has been removed then the tooth roots are planed or smoothed. Smoothing these surfaces will make it harder for bacteria to adhere and it helps your gums to reattach to your tooth roots more easily. If the bacterial infection is quite bad and the gum pockets are deep, we may use slow-release topical antibiotics that are placed directly into the gum pockets.
By cleaning out these gum pockets and reducing bacterial levels, we can give your immune system a chance to fight back. As your gums heal you will notice they begin to fit more tightly around your teeth, reducing the depth of gum pockets. This will also make it easier to keep your gums clean.
Oral Care at Home
Afterwards it’s essential that you keep your teeth and gums thoroughly clean with regular brushing and flossing. Our dentist can help you with this by showing you the most effective ways to brush and floss and the best tools to use. If treatment is ongoing, then it’s vital that you keep up with regular appointments.
Surgical Treatments for Periodontitis
Surgical treatment may be required to help repair and rebuild the tissues damaged by periodontitis. Treatments include flap or pocket reduction surgery which will help reduce the size of gum pockets so your gums fit more snugly around your teeth, as well as tissue regeneration procedures to help replace lost bone and soft tissues. Gum grafts can help to cover up tooth roots exposed by gum recession.
Periodontal Disease and General Health
Periodontal disease can affect your general health as bleeding gums allow bacteria from your mouth to get directly into your bloodstream, creating inflammation in your body and increasing your risk of certain diseases. Periodontitis has been linked to a number of serious health conditions that include diabetes, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and some cancers. Research into this link is still ongoing, but this is just one of the reasons why we take periodontal disease so seriously. If you already have health conditions that affect your immune system and which increase your risk of developing periodontal disease, for example, diabetes, then we can work with you to reduce your risk through providing you with a personalized treatment plan. A healthy mouth can help you to have a healthy body.