A juicy steak. Rich, velvety chocolate cake. A bowl of warm, spicy tortilla soup. Food! It’s what keeps us alive. But for most people it does much, much more. It brings families together. It sets the stage for a first date. It’s the basis for a treasured memory. And it eases the awkwardness of many a serious and not-so-serious discussion.
So, what would life be like if you couldn’t enjoy the foods you love? If you didn’t have teeth to chew your favorite steak or if warm soup always hurt your mouth? Unfortunately, gum disease, if left untreated, has the potential to make such a bad dream reality.
What is Gum Disease?
Gum disease is inflammation of your gums caused by bacterial growth around your teeth and along the gum line. It happens when plaque builds up and is not thoroughly removed; and after a while, it causes red, inflamed gums. It’s a chronic condition which, according to the American Dental Association, is a major cause of tooth loss, and which 47.2% of Americans 30 years old or older have. Like many others, gum disease is a progressive disease, meaning that left to its own devices — that is, left untreated — it will simply get worse, and worse, and worse.
Gingivitis is the lowest level of gum disease, when it can be stopped, and even sometimes reversed, with proper dental hygiene bolstered by professional treatment. Left alone, gingivitis develops into periodontitis. The early stages of periodontitis cause slight loss of the bone that supports your teeth. As the disease gets worse, your teeth will lose more bone support and they may even begin to feel looser than normal and bleed when you brush and floss.
In the final stages of periodontitis, your symptoms will continue to worsen. Teeth will get looser and looser, and you may find that your mouth and teeth hurt when you bite into or chew food. Once your gums reach this stage, nothing you can do will help. The damage at this point is not reversible and dental treatment is usually needed to return as much normal function as possible to your mouth.
How is Gum Disease Treated?
The goal of gum disease treatment is simple: to clean out the bacteria that has settled in the pockets around your teeth to prevent further destruction of bone and tissue. Choice of treatment depends on the disease severity, your overall health, and your lifestyle habits.
Professional Dental Cleaning
If your gum disease is in its early stages, we may begin treatment by scheduling you to have a thorough, professional cleaning — and an examination of your gums — every three months rather than twice a year. Professional cleaning is not a cure for gum disease; however, when paired with a more vigorous daily oral hygiene regimen, additional cleanings can help slow its progression.
Scaling and Planing
When better oral hygiene and additional professional cleanings aren’t enough, the most common first treatment is a two-step, non-surgical procedure called scaling and planing. Scaling is done first, to remove the plaque and tartar that is below the gum line. Once the compromised tooth is free of bacteria, root planing smoothes the surface of the tooth’s root so your gum can more easily, and more strongly, reattach to the tooth. Here at Lifetime Dental Health, we use advanced laser technology to remove build-up and inflamed tissue painlessly. Scaling and planing require more time than a standard cleaning and may involve an anesthetic. And, depending on the condition of your teeth and gums, you may need more than one scaling and planing procedure.
Surgical procedures are a last resort for advanced periodontitis, and two procedures are commonly used: flap surgery and grafts.
Flap surgery is most often deemed necessary when calculus has moved into deep pockets between teeth or to help reduce the depth of a pocket so that keeping it clean becomes easier. The procedure involves physically lifting the gums off the compromised tooth and maintaining the distance between tooth and gum while the plaque and tartar are removed. The gums are then sutured back into place, so they will fit as closely to the tooth as they did before the surgery. While patients often notice no difference in appearance or feel, occasionally teeth may appear longer than before.
Bone and tissue grafts are the most involved treatment for periodontitis, as they are done in order to regenerate bone or gum tissue that has been completely destroyed. A bone graft replaces lost bone with a natural or synthetic bone material, which will then promote new growth of the natural teeth. In a soft tissue graft, tissue taken from another part of the mouth (or synthetic material) is used to cover exposed tooth roots so they can heal.
Two additional procedures are sometimes done in tandem with flap surgery: guided tissue regeneration (GTR) and bone surgery. In GTR, a piece of mesh-like fabric is inserted between the bone and the gum as a barrier that helps direct new bone and tissue growth to the area of the damaged tooth. This keeps gum tissue from growing where bone should be and enables bone and connective tissue to fill in their natural space. Bone surgery smoothes shallow dips in bones affected by bone loss. The tooth is then reshaped to eliminate the dips where bacteria can congregate and grow.
Gum disease is a serious concern, and while we at Lifetime Dental Health are not dental surgeons, we are here to help you avoid gum disease if possible and keep it from progressing when it has occurred. If you have symptoms of gum disease, we encourage you to contact us for a check-up and cleaning soon.