Gum disease, also called periodontitis, is an infection in your gum tissue. People often don’t realize that they may have gum disease, or that they need to do something about it because it often does not hurt. However, more people loose teeth to gum disease than to decay. Also studies have shown a link with gum disease and other systemic diseases such as diabetes, stroke, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and even premature birth.
In perfect health our gums are tight around our teeth and a varying shade of pink. When measuring the space from the top of the gums to where they attach to the teeth, there is a natural space of 1-3 mm. But when plaque is left on the teeth, bacteria and toxins in the plaque start to break down the gums and the bone supporting the teeth. This will result in gums that appear red and puffy.
The first stage of gum disease is called gingivitis. In this stage the gums bleed easily and the space around the teeth is getting loose. There may be pockets above 3mm from inflammation, but no bone loss has occurred yet. If treatment is completed at this stage, gingivitis is totally reversible with no permanent damage.
If gingivitis is not treated, gingivitis progresses to periodontitis. In this stage the gums are also loose around the teeth, bleed easily, appear more red, and there is also bone loss. The stages of gum disease range from mild (with only a couple of mm of bone loss), to moderate, to advanced. In advanced gum disease there is so much bone loss that the teeth can start to get loose, and eventually may even fall out or need to be removed.
In our office we monitor gum disease by recording measurements around your gums yearly to check for deeper pockets. We also take x-rays periodically to check the bone level around your teeth. When we do find gum disease there are different ways we can treat it. The best course of action is to do a deep cleaning, or scaling and root planing. In a deep cleaning we will numb your gums and clean out the entire pocket around your teeth with specialized instruments. We can also use a laser to reduce the bacteria in the pockets. Another tool at our disposal is a chlorhexidine rinse. You will rinse with this mouthwash the same way as any other mouthwash. This however can kill the bacteria that cause gum disease. One other great product is Arestin, a powdered antibiotic that we place in the deep pockets.
After treating gum disease, it is important to stay on top of your scheduled professional cleanings. We may put you on a 3 or 4 month cleaning schedule to stay on top of the gum disease. At home it is important to keep the teeth clean too. The best way to do this is to brush two times a day for at least two minutes, and to floss daily. You can also use a waterpik, which is great at getting into those deeper pockets.
Writen by: Emily Houseworth, RDH
Dr. Amanda Delwiche, DDS