What do you mean my gums have a disease?
Periodontal disease is the last thing you want to hear about when you visit a dentist, but believe it or not he hears those words almost every day. Luckily, unlike the Ebola virus, gum disease is entirely preventable, and in the long run treatable.
What Causes Periodontal Disease?
Gum disease isn’t a disease as you immediately think of it. You aren’t walking around, flossing your teeth at the mall, when someone coughs periodontal disease into your face. It’s more of a case of lack of maintenance, like when you go 10,000 miles without changing the oil in your car on a regular basis. You see, our mouths are filled with millions of microscopic bacteria swimming around. These bacteria are mostly beneficial, but when combined with mucus and other gunk in our mouths they harden to form plaque. We brush and floss our teeth to remove that plaque, and start the process all over again. Of course, sometimes we miss a spot, and some people fail to brush at all. When the plaque hardens, it causes gingivitis, which is a fancy word for “my gums are red, swollen and bleed a lot.” Gingivitis, you might say, isn’t a big deal. With regular flossing and brushing as well as attention from a dentist, it will be a thing of the past. If left alone, on the other hand, it will become extremely hard and thick. The gums, knowing that gingivitis is gross, will begin to pull away from the teeth. Retreating, if you will.
Who needs those cowards anyway, right? Well, unfortunately your gums are protecting the air pockets around the roots of your teeth. Those formerly helpful bacteria now invade the air pockets, causing infection and pain. Eventually, the process will rot away at the root of the tooth, causing them to fall out. If your mouth were a car, I’d say it’s time to take it in to the dealership.
How Do I Prevent Periodontal Disease?
First, brush and floss your teeth. I realize that most people don’t enjoy flossing their teeth. The solution is to floss your teeth anyway. Next, identify if you have some of the common risk factors:
- Smoking, which will also kill you.
- Genetics, meaning that some people are just prone to gum disease.
- Hormonal changes in women
- Other diseases
However, despite these risk factors, regularly maintaining your teeth is the best bet. You should brush twice a day using a soft brush and applying fluoride toothpaste in gentle circles. Then, you must floss at least nightly. Ideally, you would swish with a mouthwash, but brushing and flossing is the bare minimum. Concentrate on actually cleaning all of the areas of your mouth, not just moving the toothpaste around long enough to tell yourself you brushed. Generally speaking, this is enough to prevent periodontal disease.
What if I Already Have Gum Disease?
Don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world. You’re probably experiencing some pain, and your gums probably look pretty red and inflamed. Some other symptoms are:
- Persistent bad breath
- Painful chewing
- Loose teeth
Needless to say, at this point you need to see a dentist. Preferably, today. They will first most likely take x-rays to see if there is any bone loss. If they are a periodontist, a specialist, they will be able to steer you in the right direction to correct this illness. Treatment is focused on removing the bacteria that have infected your teeth, and then helping the gums to heal over the exposed air pockets. The first step is a deep cleaning, followed by medications such as an antiseptic mouth wash. Serious cases may involve periodontal surgery, which is performed under anesthesia by a dental surgeon. I know, it doesn’t sound pleasant! However, the last thing you want to do is continue with gum disease and end up losing all of your pearly whites.