Everyone worries about cavities, but gum diseases like gingivitis are just as dangerous to your dental health — maybe even worse. Learn how to spot symptoms of periodontal disease and what to do about gum pain, receding gums, and much more.
A bacterial backstory
At any given time, millions and millions of bacteria are calling your mouth home. But don’t worry — the vast majority of bacteria are completely harmless, and many are actually beneficial, helping you to digest food, for example. However, other bacteria aren’t so friendly and can cause infections, including gum disease.
Bacteria are very good at 2 things: eating and making more bacteria. When you eat or drink, bacteria feast upon the carbohydrates (sugars) in your mouth. As they eat, they excrete acid which eats away at your teeth, leading to decay and cavities. This process is known as demineralization.
When they’re not eating, bacteria get to work reproducing and creating more bacteria. Brushing and flossing your teeth regularly helps remove some bacteria from your mouth. However, since bacteria reproduce quickly, it’s impossible to get rid of all of them. As bacterial colonies grow, they create a sticky film called a biofilm plaque. Hardened plaque is known as tartar.
These hard and sticky built-up bacterial deposits can’t be removed by brushing and flossing alone. During your regular dental checkups and cleanings, your hygienist works to remove them. When not removed, bacterial buildup near the gumline can be the start of chronic gum disease.
What weighs more? Bacteria or people?
So, what is gum disease exactly?
Strep throat, salmonella, and some skin rashes are all examples of bacterial infections common in people. Gum disease is also a form of bacterial infection, caused when bacteria cause inflammation of gum tissue.
Many people believe if their gums aren’t causing them pain, then they don’t have gum disease. Unfortunately, periodontal infections are almost always a “silent” infection. It’s very much like heart disease where you’re unaware of any problem until the disease has progressed to a very severe state.
Once gum disease symptoms develop, treatment becomes much more difficult. The key lies in prevention and early diagnosis. The earlier we catch the problem the better. Be vigilant for warning signs of advancing periodontal disease like:
- Chronic bad breath
- Bleeding gums after brushing and flossing
- Teeth becoming loose in their sockets
- Receding gums
The most common forms of gum disease
Gingivitis and periodontitis are the 2 most common forms of gum disease. Gingivitis is a less-aggressive infection and with treatment can usually be reversed quite easily. However, left untreated, gingivitis can become periodontitis. Periodontitis is a more serious and advanced form of gum disease which can have far-reaching health effects and even contribute to tooth loss.
Untreated periodontitis is the #1 cause of tooth loss in adults.
Gum disease risk factors
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Take a look at the following risk factors to see how they can increase your likelihood of contracting periodontal disease. Then talk to your dentist about how to minimize your risk.
- Poor brushing and flossing habits — either not brushing enough or brushing with poor technique
- Infrequent dental exams and cleanings
- High-carb diet
- Use of tobacco products (even vaping!)
- Family history of gum disease
- Diabetes or compromised immune system
While gum disease isn’t always preventable, there are steps you can take to protect your gum health like an electric toothbrush a water flosser, and more regular checkups!
“Should I get an electric toothbrush?”
A high-quality electric toothbrush does make it easier to remove stubborn bacteria than a manual brush. But it’s no replacement for professional cleanings at the dentist’s office. Another thing to keep in mind is electric brushes are very powerful. It can be easy to brush too hard and damage your gums. A good tip is to hold your brush between your thumb and forefinger. You’ll be able to brush much more gently.
Systemic effects of gum disease
While tooth loss is extremely serious, the damage done by gum disease can be much more widespread. Recent studies suggest there may be a link between gum disease and…
- Heart disease and hypertension
- Type 2 diabetes and diabetic complications
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Low birth-weight babies
- Increase in stomach, lung, kidney, and pancreatic cancers
There is evidence gum disease-causing bacteria can enter the bloodstream through the inflamed gums and cause damage throughout the body.
Think of your gums like a window. Leave the window open and anyone can get inside!
“Why do dentists call out numbers when looking at my teeth?”
During an exam, you may have heard your dentist rattling off a list of numbers. You’ve probably just wondered what the heck that meant. What your dentist and hygienist are doing is measuring the depth of the gum pockets adjacent to each tooth. The number represents the depth in millimeters. Ideally, we like to see numbers 3 and under. Everyone’s different, and your dentist will explain their findings and what they mean.
We’re not only looking at your current health, however. We’re also comparing the measurements to previous appointments to make sure your gum health is staying on track. This is part of why regular appointments are so important. We can see small changes in your health and catch periodontal disease in its earliest stages.
Dr. Catt is here to help
First and foremost, our goal is to prevent gum disease before it starts. Regular dental cleanings remove hardened plaque and tartar from even the most hard-to-reach spots in your mouth. Your hygienist can offer tips on how to improve your brushing and flossing technique at home. Then an exam by Dr. Catt can help assess the health of your gums.
As part of your exam, Dr. Catt will provide you with a high-tech printed diagram of your gum health to help you visualize the state of your mouth. If there are signs of gingivitis or periodontitis, you’ll work with Dr. Catt to create a treatment plan and personalized therapeutic prescription to meet your needs.
Schedule your appointment today at our Medford office. You’ll be glad you did!
Dr. Catt graduated from Oregon Health Science University (OHSU) in 1997 and through his personalized and high-tech approach, has since become one of the most trusted dentists in the Rogue Valley. Dr. Catt is a member and past president of the Oregon Dental Association and is involved in the American Dental Association and Southern Oregon Dental Society. He’s also received recognition from the American College of Dentists and the International College of Dentists for his exceptional professional achievements, exemplary service, and dedication to the continued progress of dentistry.