Understanding gum disease helps you build a healthier smile.
While teeth often take center stage in your smile and discussions about oral health, your gums have just as vital a part to play in a beautiful, healthy smile. They’re an essential part of the supporting structure of your teeth, holding them securely in place and forming an air-tight seal that keeps bacteria away from the vulnerable tooth roots beneath your gum line.
Since these jobs are so important, you can’t have truly healthy teeth without also having healthy gums. Gum disease, which is a condition in which oral bacteria attacks and irritates or damages gum tissue, can threaten the health of both your teeth and gums.
This makes it one of the biggest risks to your oral health, but it’s a health risk that many people don’t know much about. Just like the saying goes, though, knowledge is power! Learning about oral health risks like gum disease is often the key to protecting yourself from them.
When you understand what causes gum disease and how it impacts your mouth at different stages, you’re better equipped to understand how to prevent it—as well as why that’s so important. You’ll be able to take an active role in your health, ensuring that your smile is healthy and happy for a lifetime. As a result, we’ve created a guide on periodontal disease to help you get started building this healthier smile.
Causes of Periodontal Disease
There are many potential causes of gum disease, but the most common and well-known is poor oral hygiene. It leads to gum disease because when oral bacteria are allowed to build up into plaque and tartar that sits along your gum line, the acid they release damages your gums just like it damages your teeth, leading to gum disease.
While this is the most well-known cause of gum disease, there are many other causes. Smoking and all other types of tobacco use are major causes of periodontal disease because they actively weaken your body’s immune system. This makes it harder for your body to fight and heal from infections. All types of tobacco use increase your risk of gum disease, but smoking in particular doubles your chances of developing it.
There’s also evidence that your genetics can play a role in your susceptibility to gum disease, so if there’s a history of gum disease in your family, you might want to take extra precautions against it. Hormonal changes like those that happen during women’s menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and menopause also increase your risk of developing gum disease.
Other causes that increase your risks are chronic, long-term stress, a poor diet, underlying medical conditions like diabetes and autoimmune diseases, certain medications, and habitually clenching or grinding your teeth together. These issues make you more susceptible to gum disease in several different ways, including weakening your immune system, causing dry mouth, and damaging gum tissue or the supporting structures of your teeth.
It’s important to remember that these causes aren’t mutually exclusive, so you might have gum disease for a single reason or multiple reasons. It’s equally important to address each of these causes to help keep your gums healthy in the long term!
Stages of Periodontal Disease
When you learn about gum disease, you’ll most often see it broken down into two stages: gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis is the mildest form of gum disease, where oral bacteria have begun to damage your gum tissue. It’s often incredibly easy to miss at home with minor symptoms like gums that bleed when you floss and mild swelling.
Periodontitis is a more severe stage of gum disease where the gums have begun pulling away from your teeth. This breaks the seal created by your gums that protects the tooth roots and other supporting structures of your teeth from oral bacteria.
Even though it’s more severe than gingivitis, periodontitis is also easy for you to miss at home because it’s often painless until it’s very advanced. Symptoms you can look out for, however, include swelling or darkening gum tissue, gums that bleed easily, including when you just brush your teeth, tooth sensitivity, the formation of deep pockets between your teeth and gums, and a change in the way your bite fits together.
If periodontitis is left untreated, it can eventually lead to tooth loss and permanent damage to your gum tissue. This is why it’s so important to protect your teeth and gums as best you can by focusing on prevention and early diagnosis!
Types of Periodontitis
Although periodontitis is often discussed as a single condition, there are several different types of it. When you think of periodontitis, you’re likely thinking of the most common type, which is called chronic periodontitis. The other types of periodontitis include aggressive periodontal disease, necrotizing periodontal disease, and periodontal disease relating to systemic conditions. Aggressive periodontal disease is a lot like chronic periodontitis on a shortened timetable. True to its name, it’s much more aggressive and progresses much more quickly, leading to bone loss at astonishing rates.
While chronic periodontitis is most common in older adults, aggressive periodontitis tends to impact younger people aged 30 or less who don’t have underlying health conditions. It also tends to affect multiple teeth at once and may be more likely to run in families.
Necrotizing periodontitis is another form of periodontitis that progresses incredibly rapidly. It gets its name from the fact that it’s uniquely characterized by tissue death. This often impacts not just the tissues that make up the surface of your gums, but the periodontal ligaments that attach your teeth to the alveolar bone and the alveolar bone itself, which is the bone that contains the sockets your tooth roots fit into.
This type of gum disease is most common in people who suffer from issues that weaken their immune system like HIV, take immunosuppressant medications, smoke, or are struggling with malnutrition or chronic stress.
The final type of periodontitis is periodontal disease that arises because of an underlying systemic condition like diabetes, autoimmune conditions, and heart disease. These conditions not only make people more susceptible to gum disease, but often allow the condition to spread more quickly, hit harder, and make it more difficult to recover from it.
Because of this, even a small amount of plaque around the gums can quickly lead to gum disease, so people with these conditions should be even more careful about being on top of prevention.
Gum disease is a serious condition that can lead to lasting damage to your gums, teeth, and the underlying bone, but the good news is that it’s often easy to prevent! Keeping up with a regular, thorough oral hygiene routine at home is the best thing you can do to prevent it. This routine should include brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day, flossing at least once a day, and using mouthwash daily.
Flossing is particularly important for preventing periodontal disease because only floss can clean plaque from between your teeth and around your gum line! Plaque forms quickly and can harden into tartar in as little as 48 hours, so it’s important not to skip any part of your routine.
It’s also vital to schedule a dental appointment for a professional dental cleaning with Dr. Staley every six months. This visit is important for prevention and early diagnosis. Over time, it’s normal for some tartar to build up on your teeth even with a good oral hygiene routine.
Since tartar is bonded to the surface of your tooth, you can’t remove it during your oral hygiene routine. It needs to be cleaned off your teeth using specialized dental tools, which is where your dental appointment comes in. Professional dental cleanings remove plaque and tartar, helping to prevent cavities and gum disease.
These appointments also allow your dentist to get a good look at your teeth, so they can spot the signs of oral health issues like gum disease early — hopefully before they reach the severe stage of periodontitis and require more major treatments. It’s also the perfect chance to ask Dr. Staley questions about prevention, which is particularly helpful if you know you have one or more risk factors that make it more likely for you to develop gum disease.
Knowing your risk factors can make all the difference in helping you to prepare better and keep your gums healthy in the long term! Additionally, since early diagnosis is so important for gum disease, you should always schedule an appointment with Dr. Staley if you suspect that you may have it.
Despite the different types of gum disease out there, preventing this condition often isn’t hard — especially with the help of your dentist. Even if you have risk factors that are beyond your control that could cause gum disease, keeping a great oral hygiene routine and working closely with your dentist can help keep your gums healthy.
If you suspect you have gum disease or would like to learn more about it from a dentist Boise, ID, feel free to schedule a consultation with Dr. Staley at any time!