Periodontitis, commonly known as gum disease, is a severe infection of the gums that can harm the soft tissue surrounding the teeth. The primary cause is poor oral hygiene, which allows bacteria to cling to plaque and tartar on the surface of your teeth. Let’s learn more about this this condition.
What is Periodontitis?
Periodontitis, commonly known as as gum disease, is a severe infection of the gums that can harm the soft tissue surrounding the teeth. If left untreated, it can cause destruction of the bone that supports the teeth, leading to tooth loss or loose teeth.
- According to the CDC, approximately 47.2% of adults aged 30 years and older in the United States have some form of periodontitis.
- The prevalence of periodontitis increases with age, with over 70% of adults aged 65 years and older affected.
- Men are more likely to have the condition than women, with a prevalence of 56.4% among men and 38.4% among women.
- Smokers are three times more likely to have the condition than non-smokers.
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Gingivitis vs Periodontitis: What’s the difference?
Gingivitis and periodontitis are both forms of gum disease, but there are some important differences between the two.
What is Gingivitis:
Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that causes inflammation and bleeding of the gums. It is usually caused by plaque buildup and poor oral hygiene.
What is Periodontitis:
Periodontitis is a more serious form of gum disease that occurs when gingivitis is left untreated. It can cause the gums to recede, exposing the roots of the teeth, and can lead to tooth loss.
Differences between the two :
The main difference between gingivitis and periodontitis is that the former only affects the gums, while the latter affects the bone and tissue that support the teeth. Gingivitis can be reversed with good oral hygiene, while periodontitis cannot be cured but can be managed with proper treatment.
What causes Periodontitis?
The primary cause is poor oral hygiene, which allows bacteria to cling to plaque and tartar on the surface of your teeth. If you do not practice good oral hygiene habits regularly or effectively, harmful bacteria can penetrate below the gum line where your toothbrush and floss cannot reach. Over time, these bacteria can erode the tissues that support your teeth, leading to infection, bone loss, and tooth loss.
In addition to poor oral hygiene, there are other factors that can increase your risk of developing the condition:
- Genetics: Some people may have a genetic predisposition to periodontitis, meaning they are more likely to develop the disease even with good oral hygiene habits.
- Smoking: Smoking is a significant risk factor for periodontitis as it weakens the immune system and reduces blood flow to the gums, making it harder for the body to fight off bacterial infections.
- Stress: Stress can weaken the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight off infections, including those that can lead to periodontitis.
- Poor nutrition: A diet lacking in essential nutrients, such as vitamin C, can weaken the immune system and make it more difficult for the body to fight off infections.
- Certain medications: Certain medications, such as those used to treat high blood pressure or epilepsy, can cause gum tissue to swell and increase the risk of periodontitis.
- Underlying health conditions: Medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune disorders can increase the risk of periodontitis by weakening the immune system or affecting blood flow to the gums.
Here are the symptoms of periodontitis:
- Red, swollen, or tender gums
- Bleeding gums, especially during brushing or flossing
- Receding gums or gums that pull away from the teeth
- Persistent bad breath or bad taste in the mouth
- Loose teeth or changes in the way the teeth fit together when biting down
- Pus between the teeth and gums
- A change in the alignment of the teeth or the appearance of gaps between teeth
- Pain or discomfort when chewing
- Sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures
- A change in the way dentures or other dental appliances fit.
To diagnose gum disease, your dentist will typically start by examining your teeth and gums for signs of inflammation, bleeding, and pocketing (the space between the gum and the tooth). They may use a probe to measure the depth of the pockets and check for signs of bone loss.
Your dentist may also take X-rays to check for bone loss or damage that cannot be seen during the visual exam. In some cases, they may perform a periodontal assessment, which involves taking measurements of the pocket depths around each tooth and evaluating the health of the gum tissue.
If your dentist suspects that you have gum disease, they may refer you to a periodontist, a specialist in the treatment of gum disease. The periodontist may perform additional tests, such as a bacterial culture to identify the specific type of bacteria causing the infection, or a biopsy to check for signs of oral cancer or other health problems.
Early detection and treatment of gum disease is important to prevent further damage to the gums and bone supporting the teeth. If you have any concerns about your oral health, it is important to schedule regular dental check-ups and discuss any symptoms or risk factors with your dentist.
The treatment varies depending on the severity of the disease. In mild cases, treatment may involve improving oral hygiene habits, such as brushing and flossing regularly, and using an antimicrobial mouthwash to help reduce bacteria in the mouth. Your dentist or periodontist may also recommend a professional teeth cleaning to remove tartar and plaque buildup.
In more advanced cases, treatment may involve scaling and root planing, a deep cleaning procedure that removes plaque and tartar from below the gum line and smooths rough spots on the tooth roots to help prevent bacteria from re-colonizing.
If the disease has progressed to the point where there is significant damage to the gums and bone, surgery may be necessary to repair or regenerate lost tissue. Procedures may include flap surgery, in which the gums are lifted to allow for deeper cleaning, or bone grafts, in which synthetic or natural bone is added to the jaw to promote new bone growth.
In some cases, antibiotics may be prescribed to help fight bacterial infections that contribute to periodontitis.
Regardless of the treatment plan, it is important to practice good oral hygiene habits and schedule regular dental check-ups to prevent the disease from progressing and to maintain optimal oral health.
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Questions to ask your dentist
If you think you have periodontitis or have been diagnosed with the condition, here are some questions you may want to ask your dentist:
- What stage of periodontitis do I have, and how severe is it?
- What caused my periodontitis, and are there any factors that increase my risk of developing it further?
- What are my treatment options, and which one do you recommend for my specific case?
- What are the benefits and potential risks of the recommended treatment?
- How long will the treatment take, and how often will I need to come in for follow-up appointments?
- Are there any lifestyle changes I can make to improve my oral health and prevent further progression of the disease?
- Are there any dental procedures or medications that could exacerbate my condition?
- Will I need to see a specialist, such as a periodontist, for further treatment?
- What are the expected outcomes of the treatment, and how will I know if it’s successful?
- How can I maintain good oral hygiene and prevent periodontitis from recurring in the future?
Asking these questions can help you fully understand your diagnosis, treatment options, and what steps you can take to manage and prevent the condition in the future.
Here are some tips for preventing periodontitis:
- Practice good oral hygiene: Brush your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes each time and floss at least once a day. Consider using an antiseptic mouthwash to kill bacteria.
- Schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings: Visit your dentist at least twice a year for routine cleanings and checkups. Your dentist can detect and treat any early signs of gum disease.
- Quit smoking: Smoking can weaken your immune system and make it harder for your body to fight off infections, including gum disease.
- Maintain a healthy diet: Eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products.
- Manage stress: Stress can weaken your immune system and make it harder for your body to fight off infections, including gum disease. Find healthy ways to manage stress, such as exercising or practicing relaxation techniques.
- Treat any underlying health conditions: Certain health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, can increase your risk of developing gum disease. Work with your healthcare provider to manage any underlying conditions.
- Avoid grinding your teeth: Grinding your teeth can damage your gums and cause inflammation, increasing your risk of gum disease. Speak to your dentist if you grind your teeth to explore treatment options.
By following these prevention tips, you can help keep your gums and teeth healthy and reduce your risk of developing the condition.
Gum Diseases and other Health Problems
Gum Diseases and Diabetes:
People with diabetes are at an increased risk of developing gum disease, and condition can make it harder to control blood sugar levels. The relationship between gum disease and diabetes works in both directions, with high blood sugar levels making it easier for bacteria to grow in the mouth, which can lead to gum disease. Conversely, gum disease can also make it harder for the body to control blood sugar levels.
Gum Diseases and Heart Problems:
Studies have found a link between gum disease and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. The bacteria that cause gum disease can enter the bloodstream and travel to the heart, where they can cause inflammation and damage to blood vessels. This can increase the risk of blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes.
Oral Health and Oral Cancer:
Poor oral health, including gum disease, can increase the risk of developing oral cancer. Oral cancer can occur anywhere in the mouth, including the gums, tongue, and throat. Regular dental checkups and cleanings can help detect any early signs of oral cancer, allowing for prompt treatment and better outcomes.
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