While most patients know the danger that cavities pose to their teeth, they often don’t consider the important role that gums play in their overall oral health. The truth is that the health of your gums affects the health of your teeth—and perhaps the health of your entire body.

Is periodontal disease really a big deal?

Gingivitis, an early stage of periodontal disease, is usually treatable with no lasting effects by simply dedicating yourself to good oral hygiene and perhaps making a few lifestyle changes, such as avoiding tobacco and cutting back on sugary foods. More severe gum disease called periodontitis, however, can wreak havoc on your teeth. The bacteria in plaque can cause your gums to recede, pulling away from your teeth as the bacteria destroys the tissue. The bacteria can even erode the bone that supports your teeth, ultimately resulting in the affected teeth falling out.

Although gum disease is preventable in most cases, it’s incredibly common. The CDC has reported that almost half of Americans aged 30 and over have periodontitis. To make matters worse, researchers suspect that untreated periodontitis can cause bacteria to get into your bloodstream, increasing your risk of stroke, heart disease, and diabetes. This makes it incredibly important to prevent gum disease or to receive periodontal therapy to treat your gum disease before it becomes a bigger problem.

What causes it?

Periodontal disease has a variety of causes, including poor oral hygiene, smoking and other forms of tobacco use, and diet. Other risk factors are less controllable, such as family history, hormonal fluctuations like those caused by puberty and pregnancy, chronic illnesses like diabetes or cancer, and medications. The range of causes and the fact that many of them are beyond patients’ control make it even more important to take preventative measures against periodontal disease, especially if you have multiple risk factors.  

How do you prevent it?

The first and most obvious way to prevent periodontal disease is to practice great oral hygiene. You should see your dentist twice a year, floss daily, use mouthwash regularly, and brush your teeth at least twice a day. While you can’t change risk factors like genetics and certain illnesses or medications, you can make other lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of gum disease. For example, you can limit the sugars in your diet, and stay away from tobacco, which makes it harder for the tissues in your mouth to heal.

If you’re still struggling with gum health despite improving your oral hygiene, consider keeping a toothbrush at work and brushing your teeth after lunch. While it may feel strange at first, improving the health of your teeth and protecting them from irreversible damage is well worth it.

What are the signs of periodontal disease?

Even advanced stages of periodontal disease are often painless, making it hard for patients to spot. There are signs you can look out for, but it’s incredibly important to go for regular cleanings so that your dentist can keep an eye out for early signs. Bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth that you can’t seem to get rid of, and gums that are red, swollen, or bleed when you brush or floss can be signs of gum disease. More serious signs include receding gums, teeth that are loose or have shifted, and the formation of pockets between your teeth and gums.  

What Is periodontal therapy?

If you’ve developed gum disease, periodontal therapy is an umbrella term for an array of treatments you may need to undergo. These treatments are an important part of restoring health to your teeth and gums, as well as preventing tooth loss. There are both surgical and non-surgical treatments for gum disease. Your best option will depend upon your individual case, but generally, the least invasive procedures are preferred whenever possible.

When can surgery be avoided?

Periodontal therapy can include non-surgical treatments, but whether or not you’re a candidate for them depends upon the severity of your gum disease. Mild to moderate cases can be treated with scaling and root planing, a non-surgical option that involves cleaning the plaque from the surface of the tooth’s root, underneath the gums. Dentists will often also smooth down the surface of the root, which denies bacteria a rough surface to adhere to and can help stave off future infections. Another option is to use a tray delivery system. These trays are made to fit your mouth, then sent home with you to deliver medication directly to your gums.

What are the surgical options?

More severe cases require surgical treatments to restore the health and appearance of your gums and the affected teeth. Surgical treatments include gum grafts, which are used to protect the root of your tooth when the gums have receded too far. During this procedure, gum tissue from a donor or taken from a healthy area of your mouth is moved to the diseased part. Gum flap surgery is another option, in which your gums are cut and folded back so that the roots underneath can be cleaned thoroughly. If you have suffered irreversible damage to your teeth, you may also need dental implants.

While none of these treatments sound overly fun, it’s important to keep in mind that they’re often necessary to restore your oral health if you’ve had periodontal disease—and perhaps to keep your entire body healthy. This is why flossing and taking care of your gums, not just the appearance of your teeth themselves, is integral to your oral health.

Gum disease is incredibly common, but it doesn’t have to be. A well-informed and careful routine that takes preventative steps and recognizes problems early on will help you have a beautiful and healthy smile for years to come.


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