Gum Disease Causes and Treatments



Although the prevalence of periodontal disease has decreased somewhat since the early 1970s, it remains the leading cause of tooth loss among adults. Unless properly treated, it will destroy the gum tissue, consume the bone that holds the teeth in place where they belong and put sufferers on a one-way path to full or partial dentures.

Part of the problem with this disease concerns its silent nature. In the preliminary stages, there is no pain involved, and unless you notice a pink coloration on your toothbrush, it's hard to understand that anything is wrong. Unfortunately, this initial stage of gingivitis may lead to full-blown periodontitis as bacteria builds up in plaque, inflaming the gums and encouraging them to bleed. At this point, however, the teeth are still firmly embedded in the bone, and whatever has occurred up to this point remains reversible.

The real trouble starts when gingivitis sufferers choose to ignore the problem. Untreated gingivitis will inexorably lead to periodontitis, a stage in which both gum and bone detach from the teeth and leave pockets behind. These small spaces act as magnets that attract and trap debris.

As the situation worsens, bacteria will grow, causing an infection that easily spreads beneath the gumline. Eventually, the bone and connective tissue surrounding the teeth begin to break down. Lacking the support they need, the teeth will gradually loosen to the point of no return, and in the final stages they eventually fall out.

The Causes of Gum Disease

A buildup of plaque remains the main culprit behind gingivitis and periodontal disease. Regular dental cleanings are imperative for keeping this at bay, but plaque is not the only causative factor. Others are:

  • Hormonal changes, particularly in women. Puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and even menopause can leave the gums vulnerable to bacterial attack.
  • Illnesses, particularly those that affect the body's immune system. Cancer, diabetes and AIDS are just three of the maladies that lower the body's resistance to bacterial growth and encourage periodontal disease.
  • Medications. Many impede the flow of protective saliva. Others, particularly anticonvulsant and antianginal drugs, encourage abnormal gum tissue growth.
  • Poor oral hygiene. For those who wish to avoid the perils of gum disease, regular brushing and flossing are essential.
  • Genetic predisposition. A tendency to develop periodontal disease is known to run in families.

How to Spot the Warning Signs of Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease often causes no pain, even in its later stages. Nevertheless, there are ways of spotting its existence. The most obvious signs include:

  • Bad breath.
  • A persistent foul taste in the mouth.
  • Swollen, tender, red, bleeding or receding gums.
  • Loose teeth.
  • Deep pockets that form between teeth and gums.
  • Changes in the bite of natural teeth or in the fit of dentures.

Somewhat harder to spot are the cases showing no symptoms whatsoever, particularly when they affect only a few of the teeth in your mouth. Your dentist, however, will know the signs, and he or she will be able to spot the presence of gingivitis even in patients who have no idea of its existence.

Professional Treatment of Periodontal Disease

If caught early enough, it is possible to stop the progression of periodontal disease and even to reverse it entirely in many cases. The goal is to reduce swelling, decrease pocket depth and encourage gum and bone regeneration.

Treatment of periodontal disease consists of various methods of cleaning the pockets that have formed around the teeth. For less advanced cases, such nonsurgical treatments as scaling, root planing and the occasional use of oral or topical antibiotics may be enough.

In more serious cases, a dental surgeon can perform:

  • Flap surgery to reduce pocket size.
  • Soft tissue grafts to cover the roots and alleviate gum recession.
  • Bone grafting.
  • Guided tissue regeneration to encourage bone regrowth.
  • Tissue stimulation via protein-rich gels.

Preventing Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease

In most cases, the proper control of plaque will stop the progression of gum disease and may even reverse its course. This will, however, entail at least two professional cleanings a year along with daily brushing and flossing to remove plaque on tooth surfaces, between the teeth and under the gumline. The use of antibacterial mouthwash can also assist in the reduction of bacteria that cause gingivitis and periodontal disease.

There are other things a person can do. The individual who wishes to prevent or reverse the progression of gum disease will need to:

  • Quit smoking. Tobacco use will leave the smoker up to seven times more vulnerable to acquiring gum disease and impede any chances of reversing the condition.
  • Calm down. Stress is a major cause of numerous destructive body conditions, gum disease included.
  • Eat well. Good nutrition will help your body fight infection, and foods that are antioxidant-rich will assist it in repairing damaged tissue.
  • Wear a night guard. Not everyone needs the device, but those who unintentionally grind their teeth are subjecting their dentition to as much as 500 pounds of pressure. This can destroy the bone and connective tissue that hold the teeth in place.

Fortunately, gingivitis and periodontal disease can be halted and even reversed, but only if you catch it in time. If you suspect that you have the condition, don't let it get out of hand. Call the offices of Dr. James White for a consultation today and get a start in dealing with the situation before it becomes any worse.