Most of us know that getting sufficient sleep, eating nutritious foods, drinking lots of water and exercising regularly are all great lifestyle goals to help keep us healthy. You might be surprised to learn that brushing and flossing your teeth are equally as important. Indeed, the repercussions of not following a daily oral hygiene regime can lead to problems that affect our overall health, not just our teeth.
Gum Health and Our Overall Wellbeing
Gum health isn’t just about having strong gums to maintain a healthy, attractive smile, although that’s surely one important goal. If gum disease is not addressed, it can result in failing or even lost teeth. Replacement teeth with dentures may not allow you to eat the kinds of nutritious foods you love, and foods may not taste as appealing. Dental implant surgery can replace natural teeth, but at a cost that could have perhaps been avoided with better home oral hygiene maintenance and regular dental visits.
In recent decades, severe gum disease (periodontitis) has been linked to osteoporosis, respiratory and heart diseases, certain cancers, adverse pregnancy outcomes, Alzheimer’s, and an, unfortunately, growing list of other systemic diseases. Inflammation seems to be the common denominator, with the bacteria in our mouths from gum disease not only destroying gum tissue but making other parts of the body more susceptible to infection.
What is Gum Disease?
Your gum tissue, known as gingiva, is the pink tissue that surrounds the teeth in the upper and lower arches of your mouth. The soft, but firm, skin of gum tissue provides an important tight seal around the base of your teeth. Healthy gum tissue keeps your teeth in place and protects teeth from bacteria. When brushing and flossing techniques aren’t up to par, infection (gum disease) can occur and plaque, a sticky bacteria substance, forms, requiring special remediation at its earliest stage before it progresses.
Brushing properly twice a day, flossing daily and visiting your regular dentist twice a year for checkups and professional cleaning will normally help you avoid gum disease. Striving for low-sugar, nutritious diets will also help keep your teeth healthier. If you smoke, please quit! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that smokers have twice the risk for gum disease compared to non-smokers!
How Do You Know You Have Gum Disease?
Two of the visible signs of gum disease can include bleeding gums when brushing or gums that look red instead of pink. Other symptoms may include:
- Gums that feel tender when you touch them
- Bad breath that doesn’t go away even after brushing
- Loose teeth
- Pain when chewing
- Receding gums (space between gum and teeth)
- A bite that simply feels “off”
Some gums may be discolored or appear blotchy. We call this gingival hyperpigmentation. Sometimes certain medications or medical conditions could cause darker gums, but, normally, darker gums are simply the result of excess melanin that’s more prevalent in darker-skinned individuals. If you’re bothered by uneven gum pigmentation, your periodontist can rule out disease and may offer laser technology to safely change the appearance of your gums for strictly cosmetic reasons.
Stages of Gum Disease
Individuals with early-stage gum disease (gingivitis) may not exhibit any symptoms. That’s why, without regular professional checkups, gingivitis can, unfortunately, progress to a more advanced stage of gum disease. Should you be diagnosed with gum disease, and it’s suggested you visit a periodontist for special deeper cleanings, don’t delay. With professional help, gingivitis can normally be reversed.
We generally categorize gum disease into 3-5 stages:
Gingivitis: Bad breath and bleeding gums may be signs of gingivitis. You need to address the infection now before it worsens. Your dentist or periodontist may suggest special mouth rinses, antibiotics and other improved oral hygiene methods to control the infection.
Early/Moderate Periodontitis: Gum disease progresses when plaque has not been addressed. Bacteria continue to accumulate, extending below the gumline and causing inflammation, our body’s natural response to infection. If not treated, critical, supportive bone tissue can be damaged with the result being loose teeth and gums that recede away from teeth in “pockets” that collect more bacteria. We can keep the infection from gum disease from progressing with regular scaling and root planing cleaning as well as laser treatments that can zap diseased gum without damaging healthy tissue.
Advanced Periodontitis: At this stage, extensive damage has already been caused. Painful abscesses may be present since the infection has now spread beneath your gums. We may address the infection with surgical and non-surgical methods like flap surgery, gum and bone grafts, tissue regeneration, pocket reduction, and more.
More About Periodontists and Gum Health
Periodontics is the dental specialty that focuses on the gums. Your periodontist is a dentist who has received years of additional training in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of periodontal disease. As a result, In most instances, if gum disease is discovered, your regular dentist may refer you to a periodontist for specialized treatment.
You may associate a periodontist only with dental implants, which is another of our key specialties. When teeth are missing or beyond repair, there’s no doubt that dental implants are today’s best tooth replacement option—if it comes to that. As gum specialists, we’ll always assess your personal situation and, if it makes the most sense, fight hard to save your natural teeth.
Dr. Eric Schoenebeck is a board-certified periodontist who provides dental implant surgery and regenerative periodontal treatments at the Pennsylvania Center for Dental Implants and Periodontics. The practice currently offers two locations, in NE Philadelphia and Ambler, Pennsylvania.