Periodontal disease may sound serious and mysterious. It certainly can be serious, but the facts aren't that complicated. Here's the real info on periodontal disease and what you can do to keep your mouth healthy.
What is periodontal disease?
You probably remember learning as a child that it's important to brush your teeth to remove plaque. Bacteria in your mouth leave this sticky substance on teeth, and if it isn't brushed away, it will harden into tartar.
Tartar is hard to remove, and this buildup of tartar along and under the gum line provides an excellent hiding place for even more bacteria. As the amount of bacteria grows, the gums become infected, red, and swollen. This leads to increasingly serious problems, such as bleeding gums, loose teeth, bone loss, and tooth loss.
Periodontal disease rarely hurts, especially at first. Some of the warning signs to watch for are:
- Swollen or tender gums
- Gums that turn red or purple
- Bleeding gums
- Bad breath or taste in your mouth
- Changes in how your teeth fit together
- The distance between teeth changes
- Sensitive teeth
- Loosening teeth
- Receding gums
Although not everyone develops periodontal disease, it is more common the older a person becomes. According to the Center for Disease Control, nearly half of adults over age 30 have some form of it, and for people over 65, that percentage tops 70%. Some other risk factors include:
- Poor oral health care
- Smoking or chewing tobacco
- Poor nutrition
- Hormonal changes, including pregnancy and menopause
What are the dangers of periodontal disease?
In the first stage, known as gingivitis, gums are swollen and often bleed. The excellent news is that the condition is usually reversible at this point.
See your dentist for a professional cleaning and pay close attention to brushing and flossing, and you can still turn things around. If you aren't sure you want to go to the effort, consider what could happen at the next stage -- periodontitis.
Once periodontitis has set in, it is no longer possible to reverse the disease. The patient and dentist will have to work together to keep it in check, with techniques that range from medicinal mouthwashes to bone grafts.
At this stage of periodontal disease, the gums separate from the teeth, and the infection moves deep into those spaces. Symptoms include pain, bad breath, shifting or loosened teeth, bone loss, and tooth loss.
Even worse, periodontitis seems to impact the immune system. Patients who have developed periodontitis are more likely to have a large number of other diseases, including stroke, coronary artery disease, and respiratory difficulty.
Pregnant women with this infection have a higher risk of preterm labor, preeclampsia, and low birth weight. In postmenopausal women, it leads to higher rates of breast cancer.
How to prevent periodontal disease
Keeping your mouth healthy is not only good for your smile, it benefits your whole body.
Your dentist is a powerful ally in the fight against gum infection. Regular check-ups are vital
- Cleanings. Once tartar is formed, you need a professional cleaning to remove it. Don't let the bacteria get a foothold.
- Dental hygiene assessment. A dentist can tell if there are problems, often before they cause symptoms. Addressing issues such as dry mouth can ward off more serious issues down the road.
A few simple steps, done regularly, will make a world of difference in your mouth.
- Brush twice a day, for two minutes.
- Floss. Check with your dentist to be sure your technique is effective.
A mouthwash may be beneficial. Ask your dentist.
What's good for your mouth is good for your body. Here are some changes you can embrace to feel better all over.
- Quit tobacco. Smoking or chewing tobacco reduces blood flow to the gums, which increases the risk of periodontal disease and can speed its progression.
- Eat a healthy, varied diet. Plenty of fruits and vegetables and other good choices will give your body the nutrients it needs to fight back infections of all kinds.
- Chew sugarless gum. If you can't brush after a meal, sugarless gum is a good tool to help prevent plaque from forming.
People used to assume that getting older meant you would lose some teeth. Once you know the real info on periodontal disease, there's no reason to think it's inevitable today. With good home care and the support of a dentist, you can fight periodontal disease and keep your smile bright. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us.