Periodontal disease—also known as gum disease, is a frequently ignored disease. The majority of people with gum infection may go untreated until advanced symptoms appear like bleeding and receding gums, bad breath, drifting teeth, loose teeth, or a gum abscess. 85% of US adults have some form of gum disease. From the earliest stages of gingivitis to the more advanced stages of periodontitis, gum disease is one of the most prevalent diseases in our society, unfortunately, the odds are you have it, too; you just don’t know it. Here’s what you need to know about gum disease and what you can do about it.

Gum Disease: The Silent Killer

Gum disease, also called periodontal disease, is an infection of the tissues and bone that support your teeth. It occurs when germs infect the gum tissues around the teeth, causing redness, swelling, and bleeding. Gum disease has been linked to major health problems including heart disease, strokes, preterm and stillborn births, as well as certain cancers. It is the leading cause of tooth loss for adults.

Gingivitis and periodontitis are two stages gum disease. Here’s the difference between them:

Gingivitis: A less severe form of gum disease, gingivitis is inflammation of the gums caused by plaque build up. Plaque is the film found on your teeth. It is a sticky combination of germs and bacteria known as a biofilm. If not brushed away, plaque hardens into a barnacle-like material to form calculus, commonly known as tartar. Just like lime deposits on a shower drain, the hardened calculus is difficult to remove. The biofilm will continue to grow and infect your gums, sometimes causing redness and bleeding you may or may not see.

Healthy gums and tooth
Gingivitis - Calculus builds up on teeth and gums are inflamed (red). Early stage of gum disease.

Periodontitis: Gingivitis, if left untreated, will progress to periodontitis. With periodontitis, calculus deposits expand on the surface of your teeth, edging down below your gum line. This condition causes your gums to separate slightly from the teeth and supporting bone, forming periodontal pockets. It creates swelling, bleeding, pain while chewing, teeth misalignment and looseness. Some patients also have sores inside the mouth, persistent bad breath, and sensitive teeth. A discharge of puss from the gums, called pyorrhea, is another a symptom of periodontitis.

Untreated gingivitis will progress and become periodontitis, a much more severe form of gum disease. The infection and the pockets may continue to deepen, eating away at the jawbone until your teeth become loose and fall out—unless you seek treatment.

Moderate Periodontitis - Inflammation causes gums to separate from tooth, forming pockets. Early to moderate bone loss. Moderate gum disease.
Advanced Periodontitis - Severe bone loss, deep pockets. Tooth is in danger of falling out. Advanced gum disease.

Risk Factors

  • Smoking.  Need another reason to quit smoking? Smoking is one of the most significant risk factors associated with the development of gum disease. Additionally, smoking can lower the chances for successful treatment.
  • Hormonal changes in girls/women. These changes can make gums more sensitive and make it easier for gingivitis to develop.
  • Diabetes. People with diabetes are at higher risk for developing infections, including gum disease.
  • Other illnesses and their treatments. Diseases such as AIDS and its treatments can also negatively affect the health of gums, as can treatments for cancer.
  • Medications. There are hundreds of prescription and over the counter medications that can reduce the flow of saliva, which has a protective effect on the mouth. Without enough saliva, the mouth is vulnerable to infections such as gum disease. And some medicines can cause abnormal overgrowth of the gum tissue; this can make it difficult to keep teeth and gums clean.
  • Genetic susceptibility. Some people are more prone to severe gum disease than others.

Gum disease and related health concerns

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, you should schedule a check-up as soon as possible as gum disease can be related to a number of serious health issues, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Respiratory diseases
  • Stroke
  • Low birth weight of newborns
  • Cancer

How do I know if I have gum disease?

Symptoms of gum disease include:

  • Bad breath that won’t go away
  • Red or swollen gums
  • Tender or bleeding gums
  • Painful chewing
  • Loose teeth
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Receding gums or longer appearing teeth

Can I avoid getting gum disease?

Prevention is always the least painful and least expensive path to good health. If there are no infections, then your dentist or hygienist will suggest a plan that includes regular brushing, flossing and dental hygiene visits as your best bet for avoiding dental infections.

It is critical that you don’t skip your regular cleanings every six months. Make sure your dentist checks for the signs of gum diseases to help catch the disease in early stages. Dental professionals will do this by probing – inserting a small probe between your gum line and tooth to identify pockets. During the process, they may call out numbers – these numbers correspond to pocket depths. In this case, lower numbers are definitely better.

Take care of your gums to take care of your health.

Take control of your health—and your life—by treating gum disease today, before you lose teeth tomorrow.

Gum Infection Treatment

The main goal of treatment is to control the infection. The number and types of treatment will vary, depending on the extent of the gum disease. Any type of treatment requires that the patient keeps up good daily care at home. The doctor may also suggest changing certain behaviors, such as quitting smoking, as a way to improve treatment outcome.

Deep Cleaning (Scaling and Root Planing) for mild to moderate periodontitis

Scaling means scraping off the tartar from above and below the gum line. Root planing gets rid of rough spots on the tooth root where the germs gather and help remove bacteria that contribute to the disease. In some cases, a laser may be used to remove plaque and tartar. This procedure can result in less bleeding, swelling, and discomfort compared to traditional deep cleaning methods.

Laser Gum Treatment for moderate to severe periodontitis

Dr. Rodrigues offers the latest technology available for periodontal therapy: LANAP® (laser assisted new attachment procedure). There are numerous advantages to using laser therapy as opposed to the traditional methods requiring a scalpel and sutures. Like LASIK surgery for the eyes, our laser is able to treat periodontal disease using a minimally invasive approach.