Gum disease effects many of us, and most Americans will deal with gum disease at some point in their lives. This is not something to be extremely afraid of, but rather, to be aware of. Gum disease happens because we forget to pay attention to our teeth. A patient recently came in for their 6 month check-up, and I advised him that he had early onset gingivitis as made clear by their bleeding gums. I recommended a different toothbrush to him, to floss at least everyday, and to use a toothpick regularly after meals. Sound familiar?
However, to properly treat and prevent gum disease, here are a few things you need to know.
There are three stages of gum disease:
- Advanced Periodontitis
Gingivitis is the early stage, where we get bleeding, swollen or tender gums, and often also have problems with bad breath. You might also notice the beginning stages of receding gums. Gingivitis is caused by plaque building up by the gumline. You could think of it like dirt building up around your teeth, forming a more solid line where bacteria start festering.
Periodontitis is the next stage, and really this is the point where it gets harder to undertake simple preventative measure. Periodontitis is when the plaque buildup gets more severe, becoming what is called tartar, and this starts causing the gumline to recede, exposing and effecting the roots of your teeth. The bones and fibers of your teeth are then irreversibly damaged.
Advanced Periodontitis is when the damage to the roots and bones of our teeth is so severe that our teeth actually start loosening, and may have to be removed. This is the stage no one wants to get to, ever.
So, hopefully you’ve only found yourself at the beginning stages of gum disease, as my aforementioned patient has. Recommendations to stop the progress of gum disease include the following:
- Visit your dentist for a check-up and thorough cleaning, and do this regularly
- Brush 2-3 times daily, but do so gently. Use toothpaste with tartar or plaque control
- Use floss daily, and if need a toothpick or other similar dentist-approved device to gently scrape away plaque and excess bits of food. Don’t be afraid of sore gums the first week, this is part of the process of improving your gums
- Use mouthwash that helps fight gingivitis by killing bacteria. Sometimes, under a dentist’s recommendation, rinsing your mouth with salt-water or a hydrogen-peroxide solution for a few days can help
- Sometimes we recommend the use of an oral irrigator, which works by apply high water pressure between your teeth, thereby rising them of all debris
- You should start seeing marked improvements and even a disappearing of your gum disease if you undertake these steps
If you come to the dentist and find that you are in the more advanced stages of gum disease, be prepared to undergo a procedure called ‘root scaling’ or ‘root planing’. This is basically a deep cleaning of the roots of your teeth that are being affected by gum disease. It will have to be done regularly, and may precede a more invasive surgical treatment.
The lesson? Take care of your teeth, and go see your dentist regularly to prevent irreversible gum and dental damage.