Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, refers to the infection of tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth. There are two stages of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis. The first stage, gingivitis, involves soft tissue only. Gingivitis causes the gums to bleed when brushed. Tissue will be inflamed and gums are red and sensitive and may be accompanied by bad breath. The second stage, periodontitis, occurs when toxins erode the gum line. At this stage, bone becomes infected, bleeding and swelling are more pronounced, and the gum line begins to recede. Bad breath is also present and bone loss may be evident on X-rays.
The good news is that gum disease is frequently avoidable. The three most common causes of gum disease include bacteria, hygiene issues, and dry mouth. Bacteria deteriorate the supporting bone and gum tissue. Any bacteria remaining after teeth cleaning, along with food remnants and fluids in the mouth, will lodge on the tooth and below the gum. Plaque, or the resulting buildup of germs, then becomes calcified and develops into a crusty deposit called tartar. Only a dental professional can remove tartar, and by the time it is established on your teeth, symptoms of gum disease may already be present.
Inadequate cleaning of teeth and poor hygiene also contributes to gum disease. Regular dental visits, scheduled every six months, help identify plaque buildup as well as pockets of bacterial infection and damage to the teeth. With the help of a skilled dental professional, you can expect a thorough cleansing of the teeth that will remove problematic buildup and help to prevent future disease.
Dry mouth, or the reduced flow of saliva, may also contribute to gum disease. Because saliva is rich in oxygen, a natural defense against bacteria, appropriate flow of saliva reduces the likelihood of periodontal disease. In order to avoid dry mouth, steer clear of harsh toothpastes. Take extra care of your teeth if you take certain medications or laxatives, or have a weakened immune system. In special cases, artificial saliva may be prescribed.
While additional factors such as pregnancy, diabetes, medication, smoking, drug use, nutritional deficiencies and genetic susceptibility play a role in the communication of gum disease, the best defenses include:
- Brushing and flossing twice a day.
- Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, milk, and fish.
- Biannual dental visits.
- Changing your toothbrush every three months.
- Using a tartar-control toothpaste.
Regardless of your genetics or health status, a little extra care, performed consistently, can go a long way to preventing gum disease and maintaining a strong immune system.