Getting to Know Gum Disease, Pt. 1

Do you have gum disease? According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), if you’re over 30 years old, there’s a 50/50 chance you have some form of gum disease. That’s about 64 million people!

One of the missions of our practice in Kennewick, WA is periodontal disease (gum disease) prevention, and a big part of that is educating the public. In the next two blog posts, we’ll cover the causes of gum disease, risk factors, the links to other diseases, and how you can prevent it.

What is gum disease and where does it come from?

Gum disease is caused by plaque. Plaque is living bacteria: so much bacteria that it forms a film on your teeth that you can feel with your tongue. Serious problems can start when there is a lot of plaque build-up, so it’s important that the plaque is removed with brushing and flossing.

You get more plaque the more foods you eat with carbohydrates in them. If you have tried to keep a “low-carb” diet, you probably know what these foods are, but here are a few examples just in case:

  • Soft Drinks
  • Candy
  • Bread and Baked Goods
  • Milk
  • Breakfast Cereals

Just like you, bacteria love these foods. When the bacteria eat, they produce acid and other toxins which cause tooth decay. Plaque can even build up on the roots of the tooth; if left untreated, the acid can begin to eat away at the bone supporting the tooth.

Most people think of plaque as just grime that builds up on the teeth when oral hygiene is neglected. It is true that poor oral hygiene can make plaque worse. The thing is, plaque exists in everyone’s mouth. It’s completely natural, and there is no way to prevent it from building up. Management of your plaque is the best anyone can do.

Gum Disease Need-to-Knows

There are two types of gum disease: Gingivitis and Periodontitis.

Gingivitis is the first stage of serious gum disease; this means if it goes untreated long enough, it will develop into periodontitis. Gingivitis can be reversed with good oral hygiene habits and seeing your dentist regularly.

Gingivitis can cause discomfort, but not always. You might have gingivitis if your gums appear swollen or red, or if they bleed easily (watch your toothbrush for this).

Periodontitis is more serious, and usually results when gingivitis goes untreated. Periodontitis happens when the plaque begins to grow under the gum line. When that happens, your body sort declares war on itself, starting with an inflammation response. This causes the tissues and bones that actually support your teeth to begin to break down, and after that:

Pockets Form: The gums become irritated and pull away from the teeth, creating pockets for bacteria to enter.
Deepening Infection: Once inside, the infection destroys more and more tissue and bone, deepening the pockets.
Tooth Loss: The teeth will begin to loosen; at this point, they may have to be removed.

Periodontitis comes in many different forms. All of them are ugly and dangerous.

Am I at risk?

Since so many people have some form of gum disease, the list of risk factors is fairly long. You might find yourself on it! If you’re concerned that you might have gum disease, it’s important that you contact your dentist immediately.

Age: The older you get, the more likely you are to develop a gum disease. Older than 30, you stand a 50% chance of getting gum disease. Older than 65, your risk jumps to 70%.

Genetics: Research into periodontal disease has revealed that there may be a genetic component. This means that if members of your family have struggled with gum disease, your risk is increased, even if you take your oral hygiene seriously.

Tobacco Use: Tobacco use is one of the biggest contributors to gum disease risk. If you needed just one more reason to quit, this might be it.

Poor Diet: If you’re significantly overweight, or you eat a lot of food that has little nutritional value, you’re putting your immune system under a lot of strain, and that means you have a greater chance of developing gum disease, and when you get it, it will be more severe because your body doesn’t have what it needs to fight it effectively.

Teeth Grinding: Also known as bruxism, is a serious problem for many people. Teeth grinding puts a lot of force on the teeth, which can accelerate the destruction of your gums and other tissues. Ask your dentist about possible solutions for bruxism during your appointment.

Stress: Aside from being a major contributor to bruxism (teeth grinding), stress has been shown to reduce the body’s ability to fight infections, in addition to being linked to other serious diseases.

Medication: It’s possible that medications you take regularly could put you at greater risk for gum disease. Make sure to mention all your medications to your dentist so a whole picture of the things effecting your oral health is possible.

Diseases: Other diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis can make your gums worse and less able to fight off infections. Just as with medications, you should tell your dentist about any significant or chronic diseases you have.

Make an Appointment Today!

One of the best things you can do to prevent gum disease is make an appointment with us; keeping up on your twice-yearly dental visits are a big part of keeping you free of gum disease and other threats to your oral health. Click here for our online appointment form, or call us at 509-591-0515.

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