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Beneath the Surface: The Dangers of Periodontal Disease

After a hot pizza and a couple of sugary sodas, the inside of your mouth can be a pretty unpleasant place, but even that kind of day is no match for periodontal disease. This insidious condition affects the gums and other tissues around your teeth. Left untreated, it can lead to tooth and bone loss, both things you don’t really want to spare!

The very best treatment for periodontal disease is prevention, which is why it’s important to see your dentist regularly.

What Causes Periodontal Disease?

Plaque, that sticky film that forms around your teeth, is the leading cause of periodontal disease. The longer that plaque sticks around, the more it irritates your gums, causing inflammation. The more plaque, the more inflammation, the more opportunities for bacteria to take up residence in the growing pockets in your gums. Eventually, those bacteria multiply enough to cause infection. It’s a nasty cycle.

Bacteria aside, plaque also hardens on your teeth, becoming tartar and calculus. Tartar, calculus, pockets full of bacteria (gross!) and gum infection can all cause pain and damage to your teeth, as well as the structures that hold them in place.

How Can I Tell if I Have Periodontal Disease?

Your dentist can easily determine if you have periodontal disease, and, more importantly, how bad the situation is. The sooner you get in to see your friendly neighborhood dentist, the sooner you can start treatment if you are afflicted (or breathe a sigh of relief if you’re not).

These questions should help you decide how quickly you need to be seen. If you answer “yes” to any of them, there’s a chance you are already suffering from periodontal disease.

  • Do your gums bleed when you brush or floss?

  • Have you noticed gum tissue pulling away from your teeth?

  • Does your morning breath last well beyond the morning?

  • Have you noticed any discharge from your gums or between your teeth?

  • Are your teeth getting loose or threatening to fall out?

  • Do you feel like your bite has changed?

  • If you have partials, are they fitting wrong?

Your dentist will be able to tell for sure if your problems are related to periodontal disease with the help of a periodontal probe. This nifty tool can measures how deep the pockets around your teeth are and if further treatment is warranted. Your dentist will also check the color of the gum tissue and check for bone loss with x-rays.

What Happens If I Have Periodontal Disease?

The good news is that there are a few stages of periodontal disease, some that are completely reversible with improved oral hygiene. These stages go something like this:

  • Gingivitis. The most minor form of periodontal disease, gingivitis generally causes red, swollen gums that tend to bleed when you brush. Flossing and brushing daily are vital for reversing gingivitis and preventing further escalation of periodontal disease.

  • Periodontitis. When the swelling from gingivitis gets serious and the bleeding worse, it has probably progressed to periodontitis. This is where permanent damage can start, including the loss of bone and other mouth tissues. Scaling and root planing can he used to remove the tartar and plaque that are causing your gums so much trouble. This treatment may take more than one visit, depending on the severity of the periodontitis. Medication is sometimes applied to prevent or destroy infections.

  • Advanced periodontal disease. If you continued to avoid the dentist even after your gums were swollen, inflamed, bleeding and getting worse, your periodontitis is probably now advanced periodontal disease. You’ll need a referral to a periodontist in order to have a proper diagnosis and treatment plan established.

Tips for Preventing or Slowing Periodontal Disease

As with most types of oral disease, the very best thing you can do to avoid periodontal disease is brush and floss your teeth often. That means at least twice a day for brushing (two minutes, please) and daily flossing between every tooth. But that’s not all, here are a few other ideas to help you avoid periodontal disease:

  • Brush with fluoride toothpaste for at least two minutes two times a week to help improve gum health.

  • Flossing also helps those gums be all they can be. Carry some on you for use after every meal.

  • Ask your dental team if you’re a good candidate for plaque control mouthwash. Use as directed.

  • Avoid sticky, sugary candies and other foods that tend to linger. The longer your teeth have sugar on them, the more that mouth bacteria have to feed upon.

  • Schedule a checkup with your dentist every six months. This will help them detect early signs of oral disease.

Treating periodontal disease isn’t the most fun you’ll ever have in the dental chair, so it’s much better to avoid it if you can. Regular brushing, flossing and dental checkups can help you keep any damage minimal and provide your dentist with the information they need to catch signs of disease early.

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