Periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, is a prevalent condition in the United States that ranges from mild inflammation to a serious condition that can cause significant damage to the bone and soft tissue in the mouth.
The mouth contains a host of bacteria which can cause the buildup of plaque on the teeth. Flossing and brushing are essential to preventing plaque, but if these crucial hygienic practices are ignored, plaque can quickly turn to tartar. Unlike plaque, tartar cannot be removed with simple brushing. To remove tartar, a person must have a professional dental cleaning performed.
Gingivitis, a precursor to more severe forms of periodontal disease, occurs when plaque and tartar are not removed in a timely manner. The bacteria in the mouth lead to inflammation which makes the gums swollen and prone to bleeding. Oftentimes, an individual with gingivitis will also experience bad breath. If the gingivitis is caught early and measures are taken to improve dental health through frequent brushing and flossing, the condition can often be reversed. Gingivitis does not cause loss of tissue or bone in the mouth.
However, if gingivitis is left unaddressed, the disease can progress to periodontitis, a condition in which the gums become separated from the teeth leading to pockets that are prone to infection. As a result, the tissue and the bone in the mouth begin to break down. If left unchecked, the tissue and bone become so degraded that the teeth become loose and eventually need to be extracted.
Several studies have shown a link between periodontal disease and various other health conditions. For example, researchers have found that those with gum disease have a higher risk of heart disease as well as an increased inability to control their blood sugar. Studies have also shown that women with gum disease are more likely to give birth to their babies prior to their due date and are also more likely to have low birth weight infants.
More research is needed in order to determine whether these other health issues are caused directly by periodontal disease. It is possible that the two conditions existing simultaneously are coincidental or even that the gum disease was caused by something else altogether. Additional studies will be needed to determine not only if these conditions are directly related but also if the treatment of gum disease can prevent the occurrence of other serious health issues. Although these other conditions have not yet been proven to be directly related to gum disease, there is no doubt that periodontal disease has a huge impact on your current and future dental health.
In the event that periodontal disease does occur, there are several treatment options that can be pursued. The dentist will first evaluate your oral hygiene practices and attempt to improve on them, suggesting different brushing tactics or toothpastes. He or she can then remove your plaque and tartar using specific tools in a technique known as “root planing”. In the most severe cases, the dentist may need to perform periodontal surgery.
Making sure to brush your teeth twice daily and floss at least once each day is crucial to ensuring that your teeth will be around for the duration. This, along with regular trips to the dentist, will go a long way to keeping your mouth clean and healthy.