Gum disease and bone loss is also known as “periodontitis” or “periodontal disease.” Periodontal disease can be thought of like termites in a building, where the ‘termites’ are the hundreds of bacteria that destroy the supporting structures of your teeth – the gums and the bone (the ‘building’).
Periodontal disease presents in various stages of severity and is more common than you might think. The Center for Disease Control found that about half of Americans over 30 years old have some form of periodontal disease. If left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to eventual tooth loss. Not only that – periodontal disease is also linked to various other health problems including an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
HOW DOES BACTERIA DAMAGE THE GUMS AND BONE AROUND OUR TEETH?
Our mouths are full of bacteria. This bacteria starts out on our teeth as a colorless, sticky film called “plaque.” Plaque is completely normal and can easily be removed by daily brushing and flossing. However, if plaque is not removed, it hardens onto our teeth to form “calculus” (or tartar) – and this can happen in as little as 1 day!
Calculus is a yellow or brown substance that is usually found at and underneath the gums, and it cannot be removed by brushing and flossing. Think of calculus like a splinter that is stuck under your skin. If you leave the splinter there, your skin will eventually swell, hurt, and bleed. This same thing happens with your gums when calculus remains stuck on your teeth (“gum disease”). If the calculus is left on your teeth long enough, the bacteria in the calculus cause the bone supporting the teeth to shrink (“bone loss”). Once the bone around the teeth is lost, it does not grow back naturally. If enough bone is lost around teeth, the teeth can be left without any supporting structures and the only treatment option left is to have the tooth removed.
WHAT ARE SOME SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF PERIODONTAL DISEASE?
Tender or bleeding gums
Red or swollen gums
Receding gums (or gums pulling away from the teeth) - causing longer-looking teeth
Bad breath ("halitosis")
Sensitivity to hot and cold
CAN PERIODONTAL DISEASE BE PREVENTED, AND HOW IS IT TREATED IF FOUND?
At Family Roots Dentistry, one of the worst things for us to see is when an otherwise healthy tooth needs to be removed because of periodontal disease. The good news is that periodontal disease can be prevented with proper home care and routine exams and cleanings.
Our team of dentists and hygienists are well-trained in detecting periodontal disease. As we mentioned above,
the bone around teeth does not come back naturally once bone loss occurs. However, if we detect the disease (especially early on), our office utilizes various treatment methods that prevent the bone loss from worsening and causing further damage to your teeth.
One of the most common treatment methods that our highly-skilled hygienists perform to stabilize periodontal disease is called scaling and root planing, or a “deep cleaning,” where the plaque and calculus is gently and thoroughly removed from above and below the gums. Once completed, we closely monitor our patients during their routine exams and maintenance cleanings to ensure that the disease is being controlled and not causing additional damage to the teeth.