The Gum Disease Epidemic – Gum disease, also known as “periodontal disease” (peri: surrounding, dont: tooth) affects about a third of all adults and is the most common cause for tooth loss, the other major cause being dental decay. While there are many risk factors for gum disease that can make an individual susceptible, dental plaque is the major cause of gum disease.
Dental plaque is a sticky film which forms on teeth and teems with microbes
When we brush, this plaque film is removed. However, in areas where we aren’t able to remove the plaque, it “matures” to harbor more destructive microbes and slowly hardens to form clay-like deposits called “calculus,” which then retain more plaque! The gums respond to these plaque organisms by inflammation, which is known as “gingivitis.” Over time, in those who are susceptible, the inflammation spreads deeper and becomes “periodontitis,” causing the bone supporting the roots of teeth to be resorbed and the gum crevice around the teeth to deepen into a “periodontal pocket“; a haven for more destructive microbes.
In the earlier stages, gum disease is largely “silent” and doesn’t have any overt symptoms, causing many people to neglect it. Common complaints which could imply an underlying gum problem are gum bleeding, especially on brushing or chewing, a foul taste or bad breath, and a dull ache or itchy feeling in gums. As the disease advances, it causes the gums to recede, teeth to loosen and, sometimes, painful abscesses and tooth loss. Moreover, the gum infection has a spillover effect, and effects a patient’s general health and increases the risk for conditions like heart disease, stroke and complications in pregnancy.
Serious gum disease is preventable to a very large extent. People who smoke, have a history of gum disease in the family, a health condition like diabetes, have high stress levels, and women who’ve reached menopause are more at risk and need to take extra care. It is important to treat the condition early. The basic treatment involves “scaling and root planing,” which removes plaque and calculus from below the gum line and infected roots with special ultrasonic devices. In some cases, newer locally delivered antibiotics can be placed in the gum crevice to help with resistant infections. More advanced cases, where a lot of tooth-supporting bone has been lost, need a referral to a “periodontist,” a specialist in gum flap surgery and bone grafting procedures. These procedures are done in the dental office, usually needing only local anesthesia and followed up with antibiotics and pain medication.
Serious gum problems account for a chunk of dental care costs, and evidence shows that simply preventing gum disease can mean a 21 percent reduction of total health care costs. Maintaining good oral hygiene and regular visits to the local dentist for dental prophylaxis may be all that’s needed for most people to prevent a serious gum infection. For those treated for periodontal disease, it’s important to be regular with maintenance visits to prevent a recurrence and keep their gums healthy.