Gum disease is the top cause of tooth loss among American adults. What’s more, according to the CDC about half of all men and women have some degree of gum disease, which puts them at an increased risk for losing one or more teeth.
Gum disease develops in “stages,” ranging from mild to advanced. If you’re diagnosed with advanced gum disease, also called periodontitis, a deep cleaning can help restore your oral health and prevent tooth loss.
February is Gum Disease Awareness Month and the perfect opportunity to learn more about the gum disease prevention and treatment. Dr. Scott Young offers the following overview.
The causes of gum disease
Like many diseases, gum disease is caused by microscopic pathogens called bacteria. These bacteria are always in your mouth, but as long as you care for your teeth and gums properly (with proper brushing and flossing techniques and twice-yearly professional cleanings), the risk of developing the disease is very low. These tiny bacteria are in your saliva and they're also on the surfaces of your teeth, typically finding refuge in sticky plaque deposits or hardened tartar. Most often, these substances are deposited along the gum line or between your teeth, areas that are difficult to keep clean.
When the bacteria feed and multiply, they release toxins that irritate your gums. In response, your gums shrink away from the tooth surfaces where the bacteria are located, creating pockets and channels that allow the bacteria to move farther down the tooth surface. This is what causes receding gums in people with gum disease. Over time, continued gum recession exposes more and more of the lower parts of the teeth, and eventually, the bacteria can travel all the way down to the root pocket, causing deep infections, weakening the teeth roots and increasing the likelihood they’ll fall out.
Treating gum disease
If you have mild gum disease, there’s a good chance it can be managed with more frequent regular cleanings and improved brushing and flossing habits. Having more frequent cleanings gets rid of tartar and plaque deposits before your gums begin significantly receding, restoring the health of your gum tissue and helping them “re-cling” to the tooth surfaces. However, if your gum disease is more advanced, a deep cleaning is necessary to get rid of bacteria that have migrated below the gum line.
In a deep cleaning (also called root planing and scaling), Dr. Young uses special instruments to reach below the gum surface and down to the root pocket. These instruments gently scrape away plaque and tartar deposits on the lower parts of your teeth and around the roots, getting rid of colonies of bacteria to prevent infection and tooth loss. He will also smooth the surfaces of your teeth to make it more difficult for bacteria to cling to the roots, helping prevent future infections as well. And finally, depending on the extent of the disease, you might receive a coating of antibiotic gel to destroy bacteria that are hard to reach. Oral antibiotics and a special mouth rinse may also be prescribed to help you continue to combat the disease at home. In the weeks following your treatment, inflammation will subside, and your gum tissue will begin to read here to the surfaces of your teeth, preventing bacteria from reaching the deeper root areas so your teeth (and gums) stay healthy.
Know your risk for gum disease
Gum disease often causes few or even no signs in its very early stages. Having routine cleanings is the best way to "catch" gum disease before it spreads and causes more extensive damage to your gums and your teeth. If you think you might have gum disease or if it's been a while since your last checkup and cleaning, book an appointment online today. It's one of the most important things you can do to preserve your healthy teeth, especially as you get older.