Most of us are familiar with the importance of diligent and frequent oral care to keep cavities at bay and maintain a bright white smile. But did you know that your teeth, gums, and surrounding bone structure are critical to the health of your entire body? The gums in particular are fascinating elements of strength, but unlike other kinds of tissue, they don’t regenerate when damaged, especially when affected by gum disease.
Gum disease, also known as gum recession or periodontal disease, is the infection of the gums and tissue holding your teeth in their respective places. True to its name, recessed gums pull away from teeth, exposing sensitive areas and even the root. Gum recession can also form convenient cavities for bacteria to settle in and cause all manner of tissue and bone structure damage, bleeding, and sometimes total loss of the tooth.
What causes periodontal disease?
Periodontal disease follows bad habits. People who neglect regular brushing and flossing are ideal candidates for attacks of bacteria and plaque buildup and potentially the start of disease. If you notice bad breath, swollen or tender gums, or bleeding gums; you might have early stages of periodontal disease. Most concerning is the fact that this disease is usually painless and can go undetected until it has already taken hold.
Some causes of this malady include brushing your teeth too hard, genetics, grinding your teeth, and overall poor dental care. Whatever the origin, the best strategy in addressing the problem is a visit to a periodontist. A periodontist is a dentist with at least three additional years of residency training specifically targeting the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of gum disease. These specialists are also trained to place dental implants.
Why should I see a periodontist over my regular dentist?
If you have or suspect you have gum disease, make an appointment with a periodontist immediately. Periodontists are experts in this field, steeped in extensive training beyond traditional dental school and are skilled in state-of-the-art techniques in recognizing and treating gum disease. They can also perform plastic surgery to improve the appearance of your gums and smile, as well as proactively detecting oral cancers.
You can request a thorough periodontal exam during a regular dental visit. This exam will probe and evaluate pockets below the gum line, as well as the color and firmness of your teeth, and overall symmetry of your bite. Periodontists will also consider x-rays to examine the health and integrity of supporting bone structure.
An additional option is called periodontal probing; a procedure in which a small measuring probe is place between the tooth and gum to determine the depth of existing pockets.
When should I see a periodontist?
Recent studies confirm that nearly 50 percent adults over the age of 30 are afflicted by a form of gum disease. Some of these cases can be treated through family dentistry, provided the issue has not already advanced. To help diagnose potential problems, stay alert for the following;
- A change in bite when chewing, talking, or brushing. Different bite patterns can be precursors to long-term issues.
- Red, swollen, or bleeding gums are the most obvious signs of trouble. If you notice blood when brushing or flossing, see a periodontist right away to keep minor problems from turning into big ones.
- Loose teeth can also be a sign of infection or periodontitis. Never discount a loose tooth as a simple inconvenience or “no big deal.”
- If you experience pain around or beneath the gums of a specific tooth, this could be a sign of infection near the root.
Treatment and prevention
Unfortunately, receding gums don’t grow back but you can prevent further recession, pain, damage, and potential extensive surgery. Milder forms of gum recession can often be addressed by a thorough cleaning to remove excessive buildup of plaque and tartar on your teeth, and specialized antibodies can help kill off remaining bacteria.
You can also do your part in preventing gum recession, by taking care of what you already have. The prescription is simple: brush and floss no less than twice a day and get regular dental checkups at least twice a year. Don’t smoke, maintain a consistently healthy diet, and be aware of abnormal changes with your teeth and mouth.