Gum disease, or periodontal disease to give it its technical name, is a potentially serious illness afflicting millions of people every year.
CAUSES AND CONSEQUENCES OF GUM DISEASE
Patients contract gum disease when bacteria grow between teeth and along the gum line. As the bacteria accumulate, they give off toxins that cause the gums to pull away from the teeth. Because more of the tooth is exposed, it becomes that much more vulnerable to plaque and tartar. Eventually the bacteria reach below the gum line to the root of a tooth, where brushing and flossing alone can’t remove them. When this occurs, periodontal disease is far enough advanced that actual bone loss can occur and teeth may become loose and fall out. In turn, that can diminish an individual’s self-confidence and even general health.
A periodontist can treat gum disease. However, the farther the periodontal disease has advanced, the more costly and extensive the treatment. It is possible that successful treatment will be less likely and patients may not recognize they have gum disease early on. Though the condition may produce extreme pain and tooth loss eventually, there may be few symptoms in the early stages.
There are some predisposing factors and early warning signs of gum disease, though. People who have one or more of them are well advised to see a periodontist for an evaluation.
PREDISPOSING FACTORS FOR GUM DISEASE
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, half of all people over age 30 have some form of gum disease in one form or another. Individuals over the age of 30 who have not been evaluated recently (or ever) should see a periodontist.
Research suggests that periodontal disease runs in families, so those with a relative who has suffered from the disease should be evaluated. This is particularly true if the relative was a parent, grandparent, sister, or brother
Because smoking reduces blood circulation, it reduces the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the gums. This produces a decline in gum health and makes the gums less able to defend against bacteria and gum infection. Once these problems progress beyond a certain point, treatment from a periodontist becomes necessary. Smoking a risk factor for periodontal disease, even if the smoker subsequently quit.
People with diabetes often have more sugar in their saliva, and the bacteria that cause gum disease feed on sugar. Like smoking, diabetes diminishes blood circulation like smoking does and alters the immune system impeding your body’s ability to fight infections. Thus, diabetics are at greater risk of developing periodontal disease.
EARLY SYMPTOMS OF GUM DISEASE
Pain and Sensitivity
Gum disease can make eating uncomfortable. Once the infection takes hold around the root of a tooth, the pressure of chewing can produce pain around the tooth and gum. Similarly, once the root area of the tooth is compromised and more of the root is exposed, the tooth can become highly sensitive to changes in temperature.
Visible and Olfactory Signs
The early stages of periodontal disease can make gums red and swollen and even make them bleed. Patients are particularly likely to notice this when they brush or floss. It is, in fact, the most common early warning sign that a person has a problem with harmful bacteria. Healthy gums do not bleed when you brush or floss. Patients may also notice that their gums are receding or that pockets have developed between the teeth and gums. The harmful bacteria can also produce chronic bad breath and an unpleasant taste, commonly a sour taste, that may persist even after brushing.
Gum disease can make teeth feel like they are drifting or shifting position or becoming loose, in fact, they are. This loosening can result in a change in a person’s biting pattern, and the mouth feels differently when the individual is biting or chewing.
Paying attention to the early warning signs of gum disease and consulting a periodontist promptly will minimize the expense and inconvenience of treatment and produce the most favorable outcome.