It often begins without you realizing it—spreading ever deeper into the gums and damaging tissue attachments, teeth and supporting bone in its way. In the end, it could cause you to lose your teeth.
This is periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection caused by dental plaque, a thin biofilm that accumulates on tooth surfaces. It in turn triggers chronic inflammation, which can cause the gum attachments to teeth to weaken. Detaching gum ligaments may then produce diseased voids—periodontal pockets—that can widen the gap between the teeth and the gums down to the roots.
There is one primary treatment objective for gum disease: uncover and remove any and all plaque and tartar (hardened plaque). If the infection has advanced no further than surface gum tissues, it may simply be a matter of removing plaque at or just below the gum line with hand instruments called scalers or ultrasonic equipment.
The disease, however, is often discovered in more advanced stages: The initial signs of swollen, reddened or bleeding gums might have been ignored or simply didn't appear. Even so, the objective of plaque and tartar removal remains the same, albeit the procedures may be more invasive.
For example, we may need to surgically access areas deep below the gum line. This involves a procedure called flap surgery, which creates an opening in the gum tissues resembling the flap of an envelope. Once the root or bone is exposed, we can then remove any plaque and/or tartar deposits and perform other actions to boost healing.
Antibiotics or other antibacterial substances might also be needed for stopping an infection in advanced stages. Some like the antibiotic tetracycline can be applied topically to the affected areas to directly stop inflammation and infection; others like mouthrinses with chlorhexidine might be used to fight bacteria for an extended period.
Although effective, treatment for advanced gum disease may need to continue indefinitely. The better approach is to focus on preventing a gum infection through daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings. And at the first sign of problems with your teeth and gums, see us as soon as possible—the earlier in the disease progression that we can begin treatment, the better the outcome.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating gum disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”
Here's an alarming statistic: Nearly half of adults over 30—and 70% over 65—are affected by periodontal (gum) disease. It's sobering because if not caught and treated early, gum disease can lead to not only tooth loss but also an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
Gum disease most often begins with dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that builds up on tooth surfaces mainly from poor oral hygiene. Undisturbed plaque can become a breeding ground for bacteria that cause gum infections.
Daily brushing and flossing can remove most of this plaque buildup, but you also need to get professional dental cleanings at least twice a year. This is because any plaque you missed brushing and flossing can interact with saliva and harden into calculus or tartar. This hardened plaque can't be dislodged through brushing and flossing alone, but requires special instruments used by dental professionals to remove it.
You should also be aware of other risk factors you may have that increase your chances of gum disease and take action to minimize them. For instance, you may have a higher genetic propensity toward gum disease. If so, you'll need to be extra-vigilant with personal hygiene and watch for any signs of disease.
Tobacco use, especially smoking, can double your chances of gum disease as well as make it difficult to notice any signs of disease because your gums will not bleed or swell. Quitting the habit can vastly improve your odds of avoiding an infection. Your disease risk could also be high if you have a diet heavy in sugar, which feeds bacteria. Avoiding sugary foods and eating a more dental-friendly diet can lower your disease risk.
Oral hygiene and managing any other risk factors can greatly reduce your risk for gum disease, but it won't eliminate it entirely. So, be sure you seek professional dental care at the first signs of swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. The sooner you undergo treatment for a possible gum infection, the better your chances of avoiding extensive damage to your teeth, gums and supporting bone.
The risk for gum disease goes up as we get older. But by following good hygiene and lifestyle practices, you can put yourself on the healthier side of the statistics.
If you would like more information on gum disease care and treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Gum Disease Gets Started.”
Among dental restorations, implants are the closest prosthetic we have to real teeth. They not only replace the visible crown, but the titanium post imbedded in the jawbone adequately substitutes for the tooth root. Because of their unique design, implants are not only life-like, they’re highly durable and could potentially last for decades.
But while their success rate is remarkably high (more than 95% exceed the ten-year mark), they can fail. Ironically, one possible cause for implant failure is periodontal (gum) disease. Although an implant’s materials are themselves impervious to disease, the tissues and underlying bone that support the implant aren’t. If these natural tissues become infected, the secure hold the implant has can weaken and fail.
A gum infection usually begins with dental plaque, a thin biofilm of bacteria and food particles that builds up on tooth surfaces. Certain strains of bacteria within plaque can infect the gums. One particular form of the disease known as peri-implantitis starts as an initial infection and ensuing inflammation of gum tissues around an implant. The disease can quickly spread down to the bone and destroy the integration between the bone and the implant that helps keep the implant in place.
That’s why it’s important for you to keep the implant and the tissues around it clean of plaque, just as you would the rest of your natural teeth. This requires daily brushing and flossing around the implant and other teeth, and visiting your dentist regularly for more thorough dental cleanings.
You should also be alert to any signs of disease, especially around implants: gum redness, swelling, bleeding or pus formation. Because of the rapidity with which peri-implantitis can spread, you should see your dentist as soon as possible if you notice any of these signs.
Preventing gum disease, and treating it promptly if it occurs, is a key part of implant longevity. Preserving your overall dental health will help make sure your implant doesn’t become a loss statistic.
Your risk for periodontal (gum) disease increases if you’re not brushing or flossing effectively. You can also have a higher risk if you’ve inherited thinner gum tissues from your parents. But there’s one other risk factor for gum disease that’s just as significant: if you have a smoking habit.
According to research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a little more than sixty percent of smokers develop gum disease in their lifetime at double the risk of non-smokers. And it’s not just cigarettes—any form of tobacco use (including smokeless) or even e-cigarettes increases the risk for gum disease.
Smoking alters the oral environment to make it friendlier for disease-causing bacteria. Some chemicals released in tobacco can damage gum tissues, which can cause them to gradually detach from the teeth. This can lead to tooth loss, which smokers are three times more likely to experience than non-smokers.
Smoking may also hide the early signs of gum disease like red, swollen or bleeding gums. But because the nicotine in tobacco restricts the blood supply to gum tissue, the gums of a smoker with gum disease may look healthy. But it’s a camouflage, which could delay prompt treatment that could prevent further damage.
Finally because tobacco can inhibit the body’s production of antibodies to fight infection, smoking may slow the healing process after gum disease treatment. This also means tobacco users have a higher risk of a repeat infection, something known as refractory periodontitis. This can create a cycle of treatment and re-infection that can significantly increase dental care costs.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can substantially lower your risk of gum disease and its complications by quitting any kind of tobacco habit. As it leaves your system, your body will respond much quicker to heal itself. And quitting will definitely increase your chances of preventing gum disease in the first place.
Quitting, though, can be difficult, so it’s best not to go it alone. Talk with your doctor about ways to kick the habit; you may also benefit from the encouragement of family and friends, as well as support groups of others trying to quit too. To learn more about quitting tobacco visit www.smokefree.gov or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
If you would like more information on how smoking can affect your oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Smoking and Gum Disease.”
While lasers still seem like science fiction, they’ve been used commercially (and medically) for decades. But there’s still room for growth in practical applications with this developing technology. One promising area is in the treatment of periodontal (gum) disease.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection triggered by plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles caused by inadequate oral hygiene. The disease is highly destructive and can eventually lead to both tooth and bone loss. Treatment procedures vary widely, but they all have the same goal: remove the offending plaque and calculus (tartar) from tooth and gum surfaces. Without plaque the infection subsides and the gums can heal.
For decades now, dentists have removed plaque and calculus manually with special hand instruments or ultrasonic equipment. If the disease has advanced below the gum line or formed deep voids filled with infection called periodontal pockets, the dentist may also employ surgical techniques to access the infected areas.
While all these techniques have a long track record for effectiveness, they can cause the inadvertent destruction of healthy tissue, as well as create discomfort for some patients afterward. This is where a new protocol called Laser Assisted New Attachment Procedure (LANAP®) may be able to make a difference in the future.
With the LANAP® protocol, surgeons direct a laser beam of light through a fiber optic the width of three human hairs onto diseased tissue. The particular color of light interacts with the tissue, which contains the darkly-pigmented bacteria causing the disease, and “vaporizes” it. The beam, however, passes harmlessly through lighter-pigmented healthy tissue; as a result diseased tissue is eradicated with little to no harm to adjacent healthy tissue.
With these capabilities, trained dentists using LANAP® for gum disease treatment might be able to achieve conventional results with less tissue removal and bleeding, less discomfort for patients, and less tissue shrinkage than traditional procedures — and without scalpels or sutures. And some post-surgical studies have indicated LANAP® might also encourage gum tissue regeneration in the months following.
LANAP®, however, is still developing and requires further research. Thus far, though, the results have been encouraging. As laser technology advances, it’s quite possible tomorrow’s patient may experience less discomfort and more effective healing with their gum disease treatment.
If you would like more information on gum disease treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Treating Gum Disease with Lasers.”