While the term “periodontal disease” might not be used daily by most of us, it’s a widespread condition — one we regularly see at Rhoades DDS. In fact, 47.2% of adults age 30 and older have some form of periodontal disease. And prevalence only increases with age, with 70.1% of adults 65 years and older having periodontal disease.
Thankfully, it’s also both treatable and preventable! Periodontal disease (also referred to as “gum disease”) describes an infection of the same tissues that keep your teeth held securely in place. Since there are numerous causes, symptoms, and treatments for gum disease, let’s walk through these different layers to help you feel more prepared for a healthier future.
What causes gum disease?
As you eat and drink daily, dental plaque gets left behind on your teeth. This is the case regardless of what your daily diet looks like. Even those with the most nutritious eating habits are at risk! If that dental plaque is not removed every single day with a consistent brushing and flossing routine, it can harden and turn into tartar.
Tartar is a sticky layer of bacteria that can only be removed by a dental professional with the correct tools and skills. (Yet another reason why routine, consistent dental appointments are important!) If left on your teeth for too long, however, this tartar will lead to gum disease.
Even if you have the most impressive daily oral care routine, you may still be at risk of developing gum disease based on other factors. If you are a smoker, have a chronic illness like diabetes or AIDS, or are experiencing hormonal changes around a pregnancy, you may be more likely to develop periodontal disease. This makes it especially important to know what to look out for.
What are the symptoms of periodontal disease?
One of the earliest, easiest-to-see symptoms of gum disease is red, swollen, or bleeding gums. If you notice pink water in the sink when rinsing your toothbrush, or if you find brushing along your gum line painful, this might be your earliest sign that something isn’t right.
If poor oral care habits continue, periodontal disease could cause your gums to pull away from your teeth, making them appear longer. You may also find that you have bad breath that just won’t go away. Both are a direct result of tartar build-up on your teeth.
If periodontal disease isn’t treated and habits aren’t improved, this bacterial infection can spread to the bones that are under the gums. This may lead to sensitive teeth, loose teeth, and pain while chewing. If it progresses far enough, then teeth could actually loosen to the point where they ultimately need to be removed.
How can gum disease be diagnosed?
Any time you come into the dentist’s office, your gums will be checked for signs of inflammation. This is a part of any routine check-up appointment because, sometimes, signs of gum disease can be present without you even noticing!
To check for gum disease, the dental professional may use a probe. This tool measures the pockets around your teeth. In a healthy environment, these pockets are generally 1-3 millimeters in size, but deeper pockets can indicate that you’re developing gum disease. Depending on what is found during this exam, x-ray images of the mouth may also be taken. These will reveal whether or not the gum disease has led to bone loss.
These diagnostic processes may sound intimidating, but they are everyday practice for the Rhodes DDS team, and we take extensive steps to make sure you feel comfortable no matter what exam you’re experiencing.
Can periodontal disease be treated?
Short answer: yes! Some periodontists specialize specifically in the diagnosis and treatment of gum disease. Depending on the stage of your infection, your dentist may refer you to one of these specialists, if needed. Your dentist can also provide several different treatments in-office, depending on the stage of your gum disease.
During treatment, our top priority is to control the infection. So regardless of which treatment option your dentist or periodontist recommends, you must maintain consistency and quality with daily oral care at home. It’s also important to stop any bad habits that could worsen the situation, including smoking or vaping.
Concerned you may have periodontal disease?
You can take immediate steps to decrease the likelihood of developing or worsening gum disease. These include brushing your teeth twice daily, using fluoride to better protect your teeth, and flossing regularly with whichever flossing tool works best for you.
Call the Rhoades DDS team to schedule an appointment and get back in the swing of maintaining a routine schedule of check-ups and professional cleanings.