Gum disease or periodontal disease, a chronic inflammation and infection of the gums and surrounding tissue, is the major cause of about 70 percent of adult tooth loss, affecting three out of four persons at some point in their life.
What causes gum disease?
Bacterial plaque - a sticky, colorless film that constantly forms on the teeth - is recognized as the primary cause of gum disease. Specific periodontal diseases may be associated with specific bacterial types. If plaque isn't removed each day by brushing and flossing, it hardens into a rough, porous substance called calculus (also known as tartar).Toxins (poisons) produced by bacteria in plaque and tartar irritate the gums. These toxins cause the breakdown of the fibers that hold the gums tightly to the teeth, creating periodontal pockets which fill with even more toxins and bacteria. As the disease progresses, pockets extend deeper and the bacteria moves down until the bone that holds the tooth in place is destroyed. The tooth eventually will fall out, become abscessed or require extraction.
Are there other factors?
Yes. Genetics is also a factor, as are lifestyle choices. A diet low in nutrients can diminish the body's ability to fight infection. Smokers have more irritation to gum tissues than non-tobacco users, while stress can also affect the ability to ward off disease. Diseases that interfere with the body's immune system, such as leukemia and AIDS, may worsen the condition of the gums. In patients with uncontrolled diabetes, where the body is more prone to infection, gum disease is more severe or harder to control.
What are the warning signs of gum disease?
Signs include red, swollen or tender gums, bleeding while brushing or flossing, gums that pull away from teeth, loose or separating teeth, puss between the gum and tooth, persistent bad breath, change in the way teeth fit together when the patient bites, and a change in the fit of partial dentures. While patients are advised to check for the warning signs, there might not be any discomfort until the disease has spread to a point where the tooth is unsalvageable. That's why patients are advised to get frequent dental exams.
What does periodontal treatment involve?
In the early stages, most treatment involves scaling and root planing-removing plaque and calculus around the tooth and smoothing the root surfaces. Antibiotics may be used to supplement the effects of scaling and root planing. These may be administered orally, or more effectively by direct gum injection. These measures will in most cases of early and moderate gum disease achieve a satisfactory result. More advanced cases may require surgical treatment, which involves cutting the gums, and removing the hardened plaque build-up and recontouring the damaged bone. The procedure is also designed to smooth root surfaces and reposition the gum tissue so it will be easier to keep clean. Regular treatment is usually necessary.
How do you prevent gum disease?
Removing plaque through daily brushing, flossing and professional cleaning is the best way to minimize your risk. Your dentist will design a personalised program of home oral care to meet your needs.
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