One out of two American adults over 30 – approximately 64.7 million people – has this dental disease. Can you guess what it is? It can cause bleeding in the mouth. It’s the leading cause of tooth loss in adults. And it sometimes requires surgery to fix.
Give up? It’s periodontal disease, aka periodontitis or gum disease.
The Step Before Gum Disease
Gum disease doesn’t come out of nowhere. It progresses from gum inflammation, or gingivitis. Gingivitis occurs when the gums are neglected, allowing bacterial plaque to form that provokes the body’s immune response. This leads to the gums becoming swollen, red, tender, and more likely to bleed.
The good news about gingivitis is that it can be easily reversed in the vast majority of cases. Simply getting back into a daily brushing and flossing habit gets the gums back into shape pretty quickly.
It’s when this doesn’t happen soon enough that the real problems start.
From Gum Inflammation to Gum Disease
When gingivitis isn’t treated, periodontal disease can develop. The gums pull away from the teeth to expose “pockets” that can become infected. The infection continues to grow as gum disease isn’t treated causing the immune system to break down the bone and tissue holding the teeth in place. This is how periodontitis-related tooth loss occurs.
When periodontitis has taken hold, it takes more than good brushing and flossing habits to address it. A first step is what’s called a deep cleaning, also called scaling and root planning, which is a particular type of cleaning that addresses gum disease. The dental hygienist removes tartar from above and below the gum line and tooth surface and cleans bacteria from the pockets. Antibiotics may be prescribed after a deep cleaning.
A deep cleaning may be enough to reverse periodontal disease, but in severe cases, surgery is the only option.
Symptoms and Risk Factors for Gum Inflammation and Gum Disease
How do you know if your gums are healthy? Watch out for any of these signs or symptoms:
- Swollen gums
- Tender gums
- Red or purple gums
- Receding gums
- Bleeding gums (often noticed while flossing)
- Loose teeth
- Bad breath
- Change in how teeth fit together
Healthy gums are pink in color, don’t bleed, and aren’t swollen or tender.
Smokers are more likely to develop periodontitis, and men are more likely than women to develop it. Age is also a factor, with older adults more likely to have gum disease than younger adults.
It’s possible that millions of Americans have gum disease but don’t realize it. This might be because gum disease is rarely painful; tender gums may be a little bit of a bother, but they don’t send people to the emergency department. That’s why it’s so important to know the signs and symptoms of gum inflammation and gum disease and to pay attention to your gums. If you do notice any symptoms, make an appointment to visit your dentist soon and schedule a cleaning. Hopefully the intervention is early enough to reverse it entirely.