If your gums tend to bleed when you brush, floss, or appear red and inflamed, you might be experiencing the first signs of periodontal disease (gum disease). Periodontitis is a common problem in the United States, with half of all Americans over 30 years of age exhibiting gum disease to some degree.
Though there are different stages of severity, periodontal disease is treatable and often reversed. But can there be a case where restoring your gums is a lost cause? Read below to find out more.
How Does Periodontal Disease Develop?
Periodontal disease starts as an infection of the gums that can progress to involve the connective tissue that supports the teeth. Bacteria in plaque are primarily responsible for the infection, which causes inflammation and destruction of the tissue around the teeth. Without proper treatment, this infection can spread down along the roots of the teeth and into deeper tissues, leading to periodontitis.
Professional cleaning by a periodontist is necessary to remove bacterial plaque that accumulates around your teeth. During this process, infected tissue will be removed and disinfected to control any further infection. In more severe cases of periodontal disease, surgery may be recommended in order to stabilize the condition or restore lost gum tissue.
Can Periodontal Disease Be Reversed?
Once periodontal disease is diagnosed, it’s important to begin treatment right away to stop it from getting worse. Treatment options include professional cleaning (often referred to as scaling and root planing), antibiotics, laser therapy, or surgery, depending on the severity of each case. With early intervention and diligent care from a periodontist, many cases of periodontitis can be reversed with minimal damage to gum tissues. To prevent further damage or reoccurrence of disease, patients must maintain good oral hygiene habits such as regular brushing and flossing at home as well as regular professional cleanings every six months.
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Why Should Gum Disease Be Treated?
Untreated gingivitis can turn into early periodontal disease. Pockets in the gums around the teeth contain tartar, plaque, and bacteria, causing gum inflammation, irritation, and decay.
However, this progression is not the end of the world. After all, periodontal disease treatment is most successful in its early stages. Simple procedures like deep cleaning or root planing and scaling can help in eliminating early periodontal disease.
However, if left untreated in its early stages, this can turn into a case of advanced periodontal disease. Unlike its predecessor, an advanced stage of gum disease does pose immense health risks to the patient.
These risks include swelling, bleeding, tooth loss, bone loss, and other health problems like heart disease and diabetes. Once the patient reaches advanced periodontal disease, surgical intervention is needed to treat the deeply affected areas and replace any teeth lost.
Such is the case for Stage 4 (the severity levels measured in stages). There is no cure for a Stage 4 case of gum disease. Without extraction, these teeth will continue to cause discomfort and inflammation. As a result, if one of your teeth has stage 4 periodontal disease, we recommend surgical extraction as the only alternative.
This is why it’s vital to, in essence, nip it in the bud when it comes to periodontal disease. We want to avoid the worst-case scenarios at all costs.
Early Signs of Gingivitis
Gingivitis is the first sign that something is not quite right with the gums. It occurs when bacteria collects along the gum line, causing the gums to swell.
If your gums are red, swollen, sensitive, or begin bleeding when you brush and floss, these are telltale signs of gingivitis. Bad breath and tartar buildup can also be signs of a problem with your gums.
In many cases, an individual can reverse gingivitis by simply being more diligent about their oral health. Regular dental cleaning in 3-month intervals, accompanied by good dental habits like brushing and flossing can work wonders.
However, patients need to be dedicated to this plan and seek extensive treatment if the gums are not cared for properly. Otherwise, early periodontal disease is imminent.
Treatments to Reverse Periodontal Disease
Because there are stages of gum disease, different treatment options are available. Usually, the sooner your gum disease is diagnosed and treated, the less involved treatment needs to be. Individuals may see significant improvement after having their teeth & gums deep cleaned. Others may require invasive procedures to restore the gums and remove the bacteria and plaque.
The first step to treating your gum disease is getting an accurate diagnosis. Once you know the issue, whether gingivitis or more advanced, you and your periodontist can discuss your treatment options.
There are a few non-surgical treatment options available. If you have a very early stage version of gum disease, known as gingivitis, a cleaning from your dentist might be sufficient to treat the issue. During a teeth cleaning, your dentist removes built-up plaque and tartar from the teeth and just beneath the gum line. After the cleaning, we recommend you keep up a good oral care routine at home, brushing and flossing daily. If gingivitis occurs regularly, your dentist might recommend coming in for cleaning more than twice a year to prevent the condition from advancing.
If your gum disease has advanced past gingivitis, it might still be treatable with a non-surgical option. Non-invasive treatments for advanced stages of gum disease include a rigorous deep cleaning known as scaling and root planing. During scaling, the periodontist cleans the teeth above and below the gum line, removing tartar buildup. If root planing is involved, the periodontist will file the roots of the teeth so that they are smooth. Smoothing the roots gives bacteria fewer places to hide or collect, making it less likely to build upon the teeth and gums.
The periodontist may prescribe an antibacterial rinse, similar to mouthwash. After scaling and root planing, they might place a dissolving gel or chip between the gum and the tooth. The chip or gel melts away over time, releasing an antibiotic as it does so. Oral antibiotics may be another addition.
If non-invasive gum disease treatments are not enough, surgical gum disease treatments are available, such as flap surgery. The surgery involves cutting away and lifting the gums, then removing built-up tartar. The periodontist repositions the gums around the teeth, eliminating or significantly reducing the size of the gum pocket.
Advanced gum disease can cause the gum tissue to pull or recede away from the teeth. It can also destroy the bone of the teeth. In those cases, either a gum graft or bone graft is ideal. A gum graft typically involves taking gum tissue from one area of the mouth and transplanting it over the affected teeth.
Newer developments like Alloderm eliminate the need for grafts from the palate or roof of the mouth. Alloderm dental uses grafts produced from human tissue but not taken directly from the patient. The treatment eliminates the need to surgically remove tissue from one area, making it a more comfortable and less involved treatment option for patients.
The bone of the teeth is affected in the most advanced cases of gum disease. If left unchecked, the bacteria and inflammation can destroy the bone, leading to tooth loss. A bone graft surgery can involve using a patient’s tissue to restore the damaged bone or using special tissue-stimulating material to replace it.
Gum disease treatment has evolved over the years; options now use state-of-the-art technology to restore lost tissue or otherwise correct the disease.
The pinhole surgical technique corrects gingival recession without the need for a completed surgical procedure or gum graft. During the pinhole procedure, the periodontist makes several small holes in the gumline. He then adjusts the position of the gum tissue downwards, working with the small pinholes. The formerly receding gums now cover the roots of the teeth.
The treatment has less of a recovery time and is more comfortable than traditional gum grafting. It is usually ideal for any patient with gum recession, though consulting with a periodontist is recommended to ensure no other issues are there.
Another advanced technique for gum disease treatment involves the use of lasers. LANAP is ideal for many patients, including those with diabetes and other long-term conditions, who might not be good candidates for periodontal surgery. The treatment:
- deep cleans the teeth and gums
- reattaches loose tissue
- stimulates the production and growth of gum tissue
- is less invasive with more patient comfort
- has a shorter recovery time and might require fewer office visits
Diagnosing and Treating Periodontal Disease
Diagnosing periodontal disease can be difficult as symptoms are often not apparent or severe until the disease has progressed. To diagnose periodontal disease, a dentist or periodontist will typically take a full medical and dental history, conduct a physical examination of the mouth, and perform X-rays to look for signs of bone loss. In addition to these methods, laboratory tests may be necessary to identify any harmful bacteria present in the mouth.
Once periodontal disease is diagnosed, treatment is essential for maintaining good oral health and overall health. Treatment options depend on the severity of the condition and include professional dental cleanings, antibiotics, deep cleaning (scaling and root planing), medications, pocket reduction surgery, crown lengthening surgery, guided tissue regeneration, or bone grafts.
For mild cases of gum disease, it is important to follow an effective dental hygiene routine that includes brushing twice daily with fluoridated toothpaste and flossing once daily to remove plaque buildup from natural teeth surfaces. For more advanced cases, it may be necessary to use special medicated toothpaste or rinses prescribed by a dentist or periodontist that help reduce inflammation caused by bacterial infection. Patients should also be aware that some health conditions, such as diabetes, can contribute to gum disease progression so managing such conditions is essential for preventing further damage to gums and teeth structures.
What Are Simple Ways To Prevent Gum Disease?
No matter what stage of periodontal disease, the best ways to prevent further damage and help the gums heal are simple:
- Practice good oral hygiene: Brush at least twice a day for two minutes and floss daily. Flossing reduces the bacteria that can gather in between your teeth and is a preventative measure against tooth decay and gum disease.
- Regular visits to the dentist: patients can’t reach all of the plaque and bacteria that could be contributing to periodontal disease at home. A dentist has all the tools to do so. Patients who are at greater risk for periodontal disease should be extra diligent about hygiene and checkups.
- Quit smoking: Smoking has several serious side effects, including an increased risk of gum disease.
- Eat a healthy diet: Try brushing your teeth after meals. Plaque is more prevalent after acidic foods like oranges or chocolate, which reduce the mouth’s natural defenses against bacteria. Wash fruits thoroughly before consuming them because they can carry harmful organisms around your mouth, which could cause problems if not eliminated by brushing.
- Antibacterial mouthwash: If you’re prone to infections since the tongue is difficult to clean, an antibacterial mouthwash is ideal.
Pregnant women and smokers are more likely than others to develop gum problems. Geriatric patients and those with certain medical conditions such as leukemia, uncontrolled diabetes, or AIDS may also be more susceptible to gum disease.
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Talk To A Professional Periodontist Today
Are you worried about your gum health? A good idea is to find a specialist in the periodontal disease field who can help you work through the gum disease and come out on the other side with a healthier mouth. Weighing the pros and cons of each treatment and knowing what’s involved in each can help you make the most informed decision.
Dr. John P. Gallardo is an expert in the field of periodontal disease. He treats patients in his office using the latest high-tech treatments. For more information or to schedule an appointment with our experts, fill out the contact form below.