Gum disease (also known as periodontitis) is an infection that many Americans will face at some time. It is mainly caused by formation of plaque in your mouth. Plaque build-up leads to gum inflammation and irritation. This early gum inflammation is known as gingivitis, which can turn into periodontitis if not treated.

With periodontitis, your gums will pull away from your teeth, forming a pocket of space. Have you ever had a dentist or dental hygienist check your “numbers”? These numbers refer to the amount of pocket space between your gum and tooth. Your dentist is checking for periodontitis signs when he/she performs this procedure.

Common Risk Factors:

Bad Oral Hygiene

It is important to know and understand how to properly brush your teeth. The main goal of brushing is to remove any plaque that may lead to complications. If you’re unsure if your technique is proper or not, then ask your dentist to perform an example for you in the office. It’s also very important to floss at least twice a day (but preferably after each meal). Flossing removes food particles that, if remain stuck between your teeth, could lead to a harmful bacteria build-up.

Medications

Prescription drugs such as anti-depressants (i.e. Zoloft, Xanax) and birth control medication can both affect your oral hygiene. Always make sure your dentist knows what drugs you are prescribed to help them make an accurate assessment of your mouth.

Hereditary

Having a family history of dental problems can make you more susceptible to dental issues, even with excellent oral hygiene. If you are aware of a parent, sibling, or other relative who has a history of dental problems, then you should take extra care to make sure your teeth are in tip-top shape.

Age

As you get older, your gums and teeth naturally become more fragile and susceptible to disease. The best way to combat this is of course through consistent visits to your dentist and daily routine brushing and flossing.

Bad Habits

Tobacco smoking is never good for your mouth, or any smoke for that matter. Smoke dries up saliva in your mouth, which serves as a protective agent fighting off bacteria to help keep your mouth clean. Other habits such as grinding or clenching your teeth do not bode well for your teeth as they put extra stress on your gums.

Obesity

Poor eating habits often deprive you of important nutrients essential to maintaining your immune system, which is responsible for fighting off infections such as periodontal disease.

Stress

Similar to obesity, stress compromises the immune system making it harder to fight off various diseases including gum disease.

Gender

Men have a higher chance of developing gum disease than women, but the hormonal changes in women leave them more susceptible for gum disease to develop.

Symptoms of Gum Disease:

  • Bleeding gums after routine brushing or flossing
  • Gums that are swollen, red, or tender
  • Loose teeth
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Bad breath
  • Changes in your bite or pain when chewing
  • Receding gums that expose the top part of your tooth
  • Mouth sores

Preventative Maintenance

As with any dental condition, the absolute best way to avoid problems is to get into the habit of brushing your teeth at least twice a day as well as flossing at least once a day to remove any bits of food that may be stuck in between your teeth. When food is stuck between your teeth, it will rot overtime, which serves as a breeding ground for harmful bacteria responsible for deteriorating your teeth. Many dentists and experts will recommend that you floss after each meal for optimal results.

On top of brushing and flossing, it’s important to routinely schedule a visit (preferably every 6 months) to your dentist’s office for a regular cleaning that’s designed to clean your teeth better and harder than what normal brushing is capable of. Also, your dentist may request for you to have X-rays to reveal any signs of disease or other dental issues.

Treatment for Gum Disease

Depending on how severe your infection is will determine the necessary treatment needed to get your teeth back into a healthy state. If your dentist determines that surgery is not required, then scaling and root planning or deep cleaning could be enough to solve your problem.

If surgery is recommended, then procedures such as bone/tissue grafts, flap surgery, or bone surgery may be necessary. In severe cases, a tooth extraction followed by dental implants may be required.

Read more information on gum disease in our Periodontal Disease FAQ.