A young woman is at the dentist getting her teeth checked to prevent gum disease
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Prevention and Treatment of Gum Disease

One of the most common oral health issues is gum disease. It’s also a major cause of tooth loss in adults.

The American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) estimates that approximately three out of four Americans suffer from some form of gum disease—from mild cases of gingivitis to the more severe form known as periodontitis.

Causes of Periodontal Disease

Gum disease occurs when dental plaque isn’t removed with daily brushing. Dental plaque is a sticky substance made from leftover food particles and saliva that grows on surfaces in the mouth. It’s toxins and bacteria in dental plaque that break down gum tissue.

Gingivitis results when your body fires back with an inflammatory response, resulting in red, swollen gums.

Advanced gum, or periodontal, disease infects the tissues that support the teeth. As the tissue is attacked and the infection worsens, tooth loss can happen.

If you notice any of the following warning signs of gum disease, contact your dentist.

  • Red, swollen, or tender gums
  • Bleeding while brushing or flossing
  • Gums that pull away from the teeth and/or loose or separating teeth
  • Red, white or swollen areas in any part of your mouth
  • Persistent bad breath

You can have periodontal disease and not know it, so be sure to visit your dentist regularly. To detect periodontol disease, your dentist will measure the space between your teeth and gums.

Certain factors increase the risk of periodontal disease:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Stress
  • Heredity
  • Crooked teeth
  • Underlying immunodeficiencies (for example, AIDS)
  • Fillings that have become defective
  • Taking medications that cause dry mouth
  • Bridges that no longer fit properly
  • Hormonal changes, such as with pregnancy or the use of oral contraceptives

Left untreated, gum disease can lead to several other serious medical conditions, including diabetes and heart disease, along with premature delivery and low birthweight babies.

Gum Disease Prevention and Treatment

Good oral hygiene can prevent gum disease. Follow these steps to maintain healthy teeth and gums.

  • Practice regular dental care, which includes brushing after every meal and before bedtime and flossing at least once a day.
  • Visit your dentist twice a year for a professional cleaning. When plaque accumulates, it can mineralize, trapping stains and turning into tartar. Once tartar has formed, only your dentist or hygienist can remove it.

If you develop advanced periodontitis, the bone and supporting tissues around your teeth are affected. Your gums and teeth may need to be treated surgically or removed.

  • Periodontal pocket reduction: If the gum tissue is not fitting snugly around the tooth and you can’t keep the deep pocket area clean, you may be a candidate for a periodontal pocket reduction. Your dentist or periodontist will fold back the gum tissue to remove infectious bacteria and smooth areas of damaged bone. This allows gum tissue to reattach to healthy bone.
  • Gum grafts: Roots that are exposed due to gum recession can be covered with gum grafts, a procedure that takes tissue from your palate or from another source. Covering exposed roots helps reduce sensitivity and protects your roots from decay while stopping further gum recession and bone loss.
  • Bone grafting: This surgical procedure promotes the growth of bone where it’s been destroyed by periodontal disease. To help your body effectively regrow bone and tissue, your dentist or periodontist will eliminate bacteria, and then place either natural or synthetic bone around bone loss, along with tissue-stimulating proteins.
  • Dental implants: If you must have teeth removed, you can be fitted with a dental implant. This is an artificial root that is placed into the jaw to hold a replacement tooth.