The Owner's Guide to Gums, Gum Disease, and Treatment
Your gums are called "gingiva" by medically trained people, including your dentist. Healthy gums provide a safe, nurturing base for your teeth. Gums are like cushioned pink armor that protects the teeth and roots of teeth from bacterial invasion and trauma.
If your gums become diseased with gingivitis or other issues, the gingiva can't protect your teeth as well as it's designed to do. The gums may develop pockets where bacteria enter below the gum line and decay the roots and teeth. Also, there are tiny fibers that make up the periodontal ligament and attach your gums to your teeth (so those pearly whites stay put when you chew or talk). The tiny fibers may be weakened due to gum disease and fail to keep your teeth stuck to your gums.
There are several risky behaviors and health issues that lead to gum disease. The good news is, your dentist has treatments that address the beginning and advanced stages of gum disease.
Risks for Developing Gum Disease
Since gum disease is caused by plaque, and plaque is caused by bacteria, it makes sense that the risk of gum disease goes up for people who don't brush their teeth routinely. Keep your mouth clean and free of debris between the teeth and along the gum line to reduce your chances of contracting gingivitis.
Use floss to remove stubborn food bits between teeth that are tightly situated next to each other. If your family has a history of gum disease, pay special attention to your teeth, because you may be more prone to developing gum disease yourself.
Other risk factors include smoking, which interferes with the proper function of the gums. Ask your dentist or doctor about ways you can quit if smoking is causing your gums to go bad. Certain prescription medications and inadequate caloric intake also raise the risk of suffering from gum disease.
Hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy, life changes, or sickness may also put the gums at risk of harm due to gingivitis. In the case of pregnancy-related gum changes, your mouth will most likely return to normal after your baby's birth. There's also an association between vitamin C intake and gum disease, so make sure you're getting all of your vitamins and eating plenty of fresh fruits and veggies.
Signs of Emerging and Advanced Gingivitis
Your mouth normally gives you signs when there's infection or injury. You may first notice gingivitis when you experience a sour or coppery taste in your mouth. Your breath may be unpleasant. Some people feel slight pain or tenderness around the gum line.
Spitting out blood-tinged saliva after brushing your teeth is another worrisome sign of gum disease. If you're brushing your teeth too vigorously, this may be the cause of bleeding gums. If your gums bleed even with gentle brushing, suspect gingivitis.
In more advanced stages of gum disease, the gums may turn pale. The gum line may start to recede or draw back away from some or all of the teeth.
Gingivitis left untreated becomes severe periodontal disease affecting the bones of the jaw and roots of teeth. Eventually, your teeth may begin to feel loose or fall out when the gums completely expose the teeth.
Early Treatments for Gum Disease
Your dentist will perform techniques called dental scaling and root planing. A sharp metal or ultrasonic tool (or both) will be used to scrape away the tartar and plaque above and below the gum line. The dentist may shift back and forth between manual and ultrasonic tools to get all of the plaque and biofilm (bacterial matter) off of your teeth.
Root scaling is using the same procedure on the root of teeth. The dentist reduces deposits on the roots that may attract future bacterial growth. if your gum disease is severe, the complete process of smoothing out your teeth may take several visits to the dentist's office.
Depending on the sensitivity of your teeth, dental scaling and root planing range from slightly uncomfortable to moderately painful. Ask your dentist about in-office pain-relief options if you're worried about mouth discomfort during the scaling and planing procedures.
Surgical Treatment for Advanced Gum Disease
Gingival flap surgery is one option when there is severe gum disease or periodontitis. In the gingival flap procedure, your gums are separated from your teeth and tucked out of the way. Your teeth and the roots are exposed, so your periodontist or dentist can remove inflamed tissue and other problems below the gum line.
Your dentist will scale and plane the roots and base portions of teeth as described above. The dentist may also smooth out any rough bone edges or pockets in the jawline.
After the intense periodontal cleanup, your gums are folded back over the teeth and stitched in place using removable or dissolving stitches. Pain after gingival flap surgery is moderate to strong for up to a week, so discuss pain-relief options with your dentist when you schedule your procedure.
Contact Kenneth Schweizer DDS PA today with your questions and concerns about dental issues including gum disease and periodontitis. Our office delivers state-of-the-art dentistry with competence and compassion.