What exactly is periodontal disease?March 10, 2020 6:38 am
Estimates are that as much as half the US adult population suffers from periodontal disease. Closer to home, in Abu Dhabi alone, nearly 20% of dental treatments are for this condition. It’s clear that a lot of people suffer from the disease – and many may not aware of it. So, periodontal disease is something to take seriously and watch out for.
- What is periodontal disease?
Very simply, it’s the more advanced form of gum disease. Gum disease starts with inflammation of the gums. At this point, your gums might feel a little sore and they may bleed when you brush or floss. At this early stage, it’s easy to fix with a little extra care and attention. If left untreated, the gums become increasingly inflamed and other problems develop.
- What causes it?
We all have a host of good and bad bacteria living in our mouths – millions in fact! Normally, with the right diet and good dental hygiene, the delicate balance is kept in place. However, if this doesn’t happen, ‘bad’ bacteria can flourish. These bacteria multiply and produce plaque and acid which irritates gums – not to mention, damages tooth enamel also. If you aren’t brushing well, then bacteria and the plaque they produce aren’t being dislodged, and the whole system makes a more permanent home on your teeth and between gums. As bacteria accumulate, gums become irritated and inflamed. This is called gingivitis – the mid stages of gum disease.
- Later stages
If this cycle of inflammation is left uninterrupted, the bacteria continue to grow between gums and on the surface of your teeth. The plaque produced then hardens into tartar. Tartar can’t be removed by brushing alone, and it gives bacteria a rough surface on which to multiply. The more bacteria, the greater your body’s natural reaction to the infection. Over time, gums pull away from teeth, and teeth become loose. This creates ‘pockets’ between gums and teeth, which allow yet more bacteria to accumulate. Bacteria advance to attack soft tissue, and the underlying bone structure. These are the advanced stages of gum disease – periodontitis. If the condition continues to go untreated, you could even lose your teeth.
- Lifestyle choices
There are certain lifestyle choices that make gum disease both more likely, and more likely to be severe. Top of the list is smoking. Smoking reduces blood flow, thereby reducing your body’s natural ability to fight off infection. It also means your body’s natural reaction to the early stages of gum disease – bleeding – is less likely to happen, and therefore the condition could go undetected. Another factor is poor diet – one that’s high in sugar and processed foods. These kinds of foods supply bacteria with just the kind of food they want. Next on the list is a surprising one – pregnancy. During pregnancy, hormones get disrupted. This can affect blood flow, and the body’s natural immunity. This means you may find it harder to fight off problem-causing bacteria.
- Other illnesses
Other conditions can also have negative implications for gum health, such as diabetes and heart disease. These conditions can make gum disease more likely to develop – and it works the other way around also. While it’s not yet proven, it’s believed that bacteria are carried from the gums and into the bloodstream – hitting the heart first. Bacteria also make blood sugar levels harder to control, and more likely to fluctuate.
- Diagnosis and treatment
First, the dentist will inspect your gums and teeth. If required, they may take an X-ray to check if there is any bone damage. If you do indeed have periodontal disease, the dentist will refer you to a periodontist. Treatment will usually include cleaning off the plaque – so a scale and polish with the hygienist – and, depending on the severity, you will probably need further work. Root planing sounds scary, but is really just a very thorough deep clean of the teeth and the roots to remove all the bacteria. If deep pockets have formed, surgery may be required to reduce their size. A gum graft may be needed to help cover exposed tooth root. Even if you have very advanced periodontitis that has affected the underlying bone structure, it can usually still be treated very effectively with a bone graft.
- How to avoid periodontal disease
Make sure you have very thorough dental hygiene, and good habits. Brush twice a day, floss regularly, and visit your dentist every six months. If you have another medical condition to deal with, then it’s very important to tell your dentist, who will be extra-vigilant when it comes to spotting signs of gum and periodontal disease.
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