Gum disease is a bigger problem than you might think. More than half of all adults over age 30 have it, and that figure jumps to 70% of adults over 65. If left untreated, gum (periodontal) disease can eventually loosen teeth and cause them to fall out. It can also cause health issues outside of the mouth, including an increased risk of heart disease and other systemic health conditions.
But the good news is that gum disease can be treated—and even better, prevented! Since September is National Gum Care Month, it’s a good time to answer some frequently asked questions about gum disease:
What causes gum disease?
Gum disease is caused by certain types of harmful oral bacteria that live in a sticky film called dental plaque that collects on teeth both above and below the gum line. If this film is not cleaned effectively each day, it can eventually harden into a substance called tartar that can only be removed by a dental professional. As your body tries to fight the bacteria and the toxins they produce, your gums can become inflamed and may start to pull away from the teeth. Eventually, bone beneath the gums can start to break down and with continued bone loss, the teeth could be lost.
How do I know if I have it?
Gum disease doesn’t always produce symptoms—especially in smokers. Smoking hides the symptoms of gum disease because nicotine reduces blood flow to the area. However, there are things you should look out for. Gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease, can produce red and/or puffy gums that bleed when you brush or floss. Signs of periodontitis, a more serious form of the disease, include gum recession, bad mouth odors or tastes, and tooth looseness. But the only way to truly know if you have gum disease is to come in for an exam.
What can I do about it?
If you have gingivitis, a professional teeth cleaning and a renewed commitment to oral hygiene at home—including daily flossing and rinsing with antibacterial mouthwash—may be all you need to turn the situation around. Periodontitis may require a variety of treatments, ranging from special cleaning procedures of the tooth root surfaces to gum surgery. The first step toward controlling gum disease is visiting the dental office for an exam.
How can I prevent it?
Regular professional teeth cleanings and meticulous oral hygiene at home are your best defenses against gum disease. Avoid sugary drinks and snacks—which feed the disease-causing bacteria in your mouth—and tobacco in all forms. If you have diabetes, do your best to manage it well because uncontrolled diabetes can worsen periodontal disease.