When people talk about oral health, they often focus on the teeth: brushing to prevent tooth decay, flossing to remove debris from between teeth, avoiding cavities. But it’s important to remember that you’re not just protecting your teeth by brushing, flossing, and visiting your dentist: You’re also protecting your gums and your bones. Your gums are the firm flesh that surrounds your teeth, and your jawbone supports your teeth. Anyone who has poor oral hygiene runs the risk of developing periodontal disease, also known as gum disease. But what is periodontal disease?
What Is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal disease, or periodontitis, is a serious gum infection that damages the soft tissue surrounding the teeth and may destroy the jawbone supporting the teeth. If left untreated, it can cause a variety of issues relating to the gums, jawbone, teeth, and possibly even the heart. Luckily, it is very preventable with good oral hygiene: twice-daily brushing, once-daily flossing, and regular dental check-ups. If you notice any of the symptoms of periodontal disease, schedule an appointment with your dentist ASAP so that you can discuss treatment options.
Symptoms of Periodontal Disease
If your gums are healthy, they should feel firm, appear pale pink, and surround your teeth snugly. Any of the following symptoms may be an indication of periodontal disease:
- Red or purplish gums
- Swollen, puffy, or tender gums
- Gums that bleed easily (you may notice that your toothbrush or saliva have a pink tinge after brushing)
- Pus between the teeth and gums
- Bad breath
- Loose teeth (in an extreme case, you may lose a tooth)
- Pain when chewing
- New gaps between the teeth
- Receding gums (or your teeth appearing longer)
- Changed bite (your teeth fitting together differently)
How Periodontitis Forms
What is periodontal disease caused by? Plaque. Plaque is a soft, sticky, colorless film that builds up on teeth and contains millions of bacteria. If you thoroughly brush your twice a day and floss once a day, you will prevent plaque from building up on your teeth over time. However, plaque reforms quickly. If you don’t create a routine of regular brushing and flossing, plaque will accumulate on your teeth. When plaque has time to build up, it can advance to periodontitis in a few steps:
- Plaque hardens and forms tartar. Tartar, a hard calcified deposit, will develop beneath your gumline. Not only is tartar difficult to remove, but also it is filled with bacteria and can damage your teeth. Tartar cannot be removed by brushing and flossing at home. If you have tartar on your teeth, you will need to make a dentist appointment so that a dental professional can remove it.
- Plaque can lead to gingivitis. Gingivitis, characterized by irritation and inflammation of the gum tissue located at the base of the teeth, is the mildest form of gum disease. Fortunately, gingivitis is mild enough that you can treat it with a good oral health routine and regular dental visits. At this stage, the teeth are still firmly planted in their sockets and no tissue or bone loss has occurred.
- Tartar and gingivitis can cause periodontal disease. When gingivitis progresses, it can lead to the formation of pockets between the teeth and gum. The inner layer of the gum and bone pull away from the teeth, forming gaps. These pockets fill with plaque, tartar, and bacteria and deepen. Over time, they can form significant infections and cause the teeth to become loose in their sockets. Periodontal disease can lead to tissue loss, bone loss, and possibly even tooth loss.
Your oral health routine is not the only thing that influences your likelihood of developing periodontal disease. Other factors include hormonal changes (like pregnancy, puberty, monthly menstruation, menopause), illnesses (such as diabetes, HIV, and cancer), some medications, smoking, and a family history of dental disease.
The Link Between Gum Disease and Heart Disease
Clearly, periodontal disease can spell devastation for your gums and teeth, but did you know that researchers have recently found a link between gum disease and heart disease? According to an article published by Harvard Medical School, people with periodontal disease have two to three times the risk of having a serious cardiovascular event like a heart attack or stroke. This could be simple correlation, but researchers have been exploring the idea that gum disease is an independent risk factor for heart disease.
Researchers suspect that bacteria caused by periodontal disease can travel through the body and trigger heart disease (source). While there is currently no proof that treating periodontitis will prevent heart disease, many dentists and doctors say that the connection is just one more reason why it’s important to be vigilant about your oral health.
Periodontal disease may be a common and serious problem, but it’s also extremely preventable. If you live near Springfield, Missouri, and you’re concerned that you’ve begun to show symptoms of gum disease, contact Wilkinson Dental. Your comfort and oral health are our top priorities. If you’re ready to set up an appointment, please give us a call at 417-708-0556 or schedule one online. We look forward to hearing from you!