Periodontal disease, which also goes by the name of periodontitis or gum disease, is an infection-based condition that can lead to loss of teeth and a poor oral appearance. Some medical research and studies even suggest a link between gum disease and more ominous health problems, such as strokes, clogged arteries, and heart attacks. While no conclusive evidence ties periodontitis to cardiovascular diseases, periodontitis can create enough havoc on essential activities such as eating and drinking, as well as on your comfort. Below, we explain the mechanics of this disease and its causes. We also discuss periodontal disease treatment and prevention.
What Is Periodontitis?
Periodontal disease, or periodontitis, attacks the support apparatus of your teeth. Bacteria weakens the gums that hold your teeth in place.
At the onset of the infection, your gums become inflamed. This is gingivitis, and is either the beginning stage of gum disease, or is not actually periodontitis, but a separate condition that warns of the approach of periodontal disease. Those who put gingivitis in the latter category as a sign of potential periodontitis note that not all gingivitis becomes periodontitis. The condition crosses the threshold only when the teeth become loose and dislodged.
The inflammation that heralds the onset of gum disease might help explain — at least in part — the connection between gum disease and cardiovascular conditions.
Atherosclerosis consists of the hardening of the walls of your arteries by plaque. As you’ll read more below, gum disease has its genesis in the accumulation of plaque. Studies suggest that those with plaque in their mouth may face an increased risk of it in their arteries, especially in the neck areas due to the proximity to the mouth. At this time, the jury seems out on the link, if any, between periodontitis and heart conditions and diabetes.
What Are the Causes of Periodontal Disease?
Aside from possible links to cardiovascular diseases, poor oral hygiene creates problems for your teeth and ability to eat, speak, and effectively use your mouth. Periodontitis happens when bacteria and pieces of food and particles combine to form plaque. When not removed, this film hardens into tartar and won’t leave without professional cleaning.
Ironically, the processes of your body that fight this bacteria in your mouth can lead to periodontitis. In battling bacteria, your body releases the substances that inflame the gums. With the inflammation comes damage to the bones, ligaments, or tissues that hold your teeth in place.
While failure to brush, floss, and clean is the main culprit, other forces and conditions can foster gum disease:
- The Lack of Saliva. Proteins and minerals contained in saliva protect and strengthen gums and the tooth enamel. Certain medications block or limit the flow of saliva, threatening the strength of the gums.
- Attacks on the Immune System. Diabetes, cancer, and HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) compromise the immune system and heighten the difficulty your body experiences in fighting infections. Without the ability of your body to effectively defend against infections, you face increased risk of periodontitis.
- Smoking. Among the many hazards that smoking presents, gum disease is one because the smoke impairs the ability of your gum tissue to regenerate or repair itself.
- Hormones. For women in particular, spikes in hormone levels lead to more sensitive gums. These changes in hormones may occur during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause.
- Heredity. Tell your dentist if members of your family, especially parents or grandparents, have a history of periodontitis. The gum disease may run through certain genes.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Periodontal Disease?
At the start of developing gum disease, you might notice swelling in the gums. As you read above, this swelling is the effect of your gum tissues battling the infection. Gums may become red, tender, or start bleeding. Other symptoms of periodontitis include pain when you chew, gums that recede, teeth that appear longer, feel loose or become sensitive, and bad breath.
Regular check-ups and visits to the dentist are especially important to catch gum disease. In many cases, the symptoms of periodontitis may not manifest themselves for a considerable period of time. A person conceivably could develop periodontitis without feeling much or any pain before it progresses to a damaging state.
What is the Treatment for Periodontal Disease?
Is gum disease treatable? In many cases, the answer is yes. Periodontal disease treatment aims to defeat the infections, and restore the gums and supports to the teeth.
Periodontal disease treatment depends to a great extent on the progression of the disease. Your periodontist, a dentist who engages in periodontal disease treatment, may try nonsurgical solutions. One such option consists of cleaning out the plaque and tartar from the pockets in which periodontitis thrives and planing the rotten areas of the root. Antibiotics or other bacteria-fighting medications usually follow the scaling and planing. These may include chlorhexidine, doxycycline, tetracycline, and minocycline. Consider over-the-counter toothpaste that contains flouride and triclosan. The latter agent works against the plaque and gingivitis.
When oral surgery becomes necessary as a periodontal disease treatment, dentists may employ one of these procedures:
Periodontal Pocket Reduction. The goal with this procedure is to lessen the breeding grounds from which the gum-disease causing bacteria can thrive. To reduce the pockets, i.e. make them shallow, the periodontist folds the gum tissue, removes the bacteria, then attaches that tissue to the gums.
Gum Graft. In this surgery, the periodontist takes gum tissue from a healthy part of your gums or from a healthy donor and attaches it to the infected area. In addition to providing the necessary supports for your teeth, a gum graft can enhance the appearance of the gum line and, thus, your mouth.
Regeneration. As an attempt to reverse the loss of bone on the tooth, the oral surgeon may pull back the gum and graft gum membranes or inplant proteins to facilitate self-growth of bone and healthy gum tissues.
Lasers. A periodontist may suggest laser surgery to remove the inflamed and infected gum tissue, then employ scaling and planing. Proponents of laser may tout the ability to target the specifically-infected area and the avoidance of anesthesia. Care in selecting proper wave lengths must accompany laser procedures so as to avoid burning or other damage.
How Can You Prevent Periodontal Disease?
Reducing your chances at getting periodontitis involves healthy oral and eating practices. Brush daily and use toothpaste with tartar control or with triclosan to reduce plaque accumulation. When you brush, do so gently so that you don’t irritate the gums and weaken your body’s defenses.
Flossing each day also helps you reach food particles trapped between teeth in places that might not prove accessible for a toothbrush. You can use either the traditional, threaded dental floss or a water pick. If you do the latter, ask your dentist for a recommended model.
Since diabetes constitutes a risk factor, watch your intake of sugars and carbohydrates. Regular exercise, sleep, and other stress-control measures can maintain the strength of your immune system.
Ultimately, preventing periodontitis comes down to careful attention to your teeth, how you care for them, and what you eat. If you have suffered from periodontitis, please share the periodontal disease treatment that worked for you. Also, we invite you to suggest products or methods to prevent the disease.