Healthy gums are part of the groundwork for a long, healthy life
When you think about your oral health and going to the dentist, you likely think first about the health of your teeth. While the health of your teeth themselves is certainly important, other elements of your oral health are just as vital—especially your gum health. It’s so vital that without healthy gums, you can’t have healthy teeth. Your gum health even directly impacts your overall health, so much so that taking care of your gums is an essential part of how you feel every day as well as your ability to live a long, healthy life.
This is why it’s so important to identify and treat periodontal diseases like gingivitis or periodontitis as soon as possible. Despite the importance of gum health, periodontal disease is incredibly common, with 75% of adults in the U.S. suffering from gingivitis. Thankfully, gingivitis is easy to treat and prevent, and knowing how to recognize and handle it is essential for your health. To help you gain a better understanding of periodontal disease and how you and your dentist can work together to prevent and treat it, we’ve put together a list of 5 things you need to know.
1. What is gingivitis?
Gingivitis is the earliest, mildest, and most common stage of gum disease. When you have gingivitis, bacteria gather in a film called plaque along your gum line. As these bacteria feed on sugars from the foods and drinks you consume, they release acid as a byproduct, which begins to irritate and even damage your gums.
2. What causes gingivitis?
The biggest cause of gingivitis and other types of gum disease is a poor oral hygiene routine, especially one that doesn’t include flossing. Even if you do a great job brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day and using mouthwash daily, you can still get periodontal disease if you’re not flossing every day. The bristles of your toothbrush simply can’t reach between your teeth or thoroughly clean plaque from around the contours of your gum line, but flossing can! It removes bacteria-filled plaque, keeping your gums—and your teeth—healthy.
Poor oral hygiene can certainly cause gum disease on its own, but there are also risk factors that can play a role in the development of the condition. Major risk factors include any type of tobacco use, poor nutrition, genetics, old age, and hormonal changes like those that occur during puberty, menstrual cycles, pregnancy, or because of birth control.
Certain medical conditions like diabetes or conditions that decrease your immune function are also major risk factors, as are some medications, especially those that cause symptoms like dry mouth. These risk factors can make you more prone to developing gum disease, even if you practice great oral hygiene, but having one or more of them doesn’t mean that developing it is inevitable. It just means you need to be aware of these risk factors so you can work with your dentist to prevent them!
What are the warning signs?
The warning signs of gum disease are often missed until you go to your regularly scheduled dentist appointment with your family dentist in Boise, ID. This is especially true of gingivitis since it’s the milder form of gum disease, but it’s also incredibly common for it to happen with periodontitis. This is because the symptoms of gum disease are often painless and easily missed or dismissed if you don’t know what you’re looking for. There are some signs of gingivitis that you can look out for, including:
- Gums that bleed easily, usually when you floss or even brush your teeth
- Swollen, puffy, tender, or inflamed gums
- Receding gums
- Gums that have darkened to a dark red or purplish color
- Persistently bad breath
Out of all the symptoms above, gums that bleed when you floss or brush your teeth are likely the most obvious and tell-tale sign of gingivitis. If you notice any of these symptoms, especially bleeding gums, you should schedule a dentist appointment with your family dentist in Boise, ID right away. After all, it’s always better to be safe than sorry!
How can you and your dentist work together to treat gingivitis?
The good news is that gingivitis is usually incredibly easy to treat—and the earlier it’s diagnosed, the better! In most cases, gingivitis can be treated by getting a professional cleaning at our dental office and then committing yourself to a great oral hygiene routine that includes brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day, flossing at least once a day, and using mouthwash daily.
Getting a professional dental cleaning is incredibly helpful because it helps to remove hardened tartar from your teeth. Tartar is mineralized plaque that has bonded to your teeth, and it provides a great surface for bacteria to attach to, building up into more plaque. Since it’s bonded to your teeth, you can’t remove tartar from your teeth at home, so this professional cleaning gives your teeth a fresh start. Since tartar is often tinted yellow or brown, your teeth may even look slightly whiter after the professional cleaning!
More severe cases of gingivitis might need a root planing and scaling procedure. This nonsurgical procedure aims to clean debris and bacteria from pockets that may have formed in your gums and clean bacteria from beneath your gum line, as well as smooth out the roots of your teeth to make it harder for bacteria to grow there in the future.
Additionally, Dr. Staley at Staley Dental may prescribe antibiotics to help your body kill off any remaining signs of infection. You can also talk to Dr. Staley about your risk factors for gum disease and what you can do to decrease your risk of future gum disease. This might mean adjusting aspects of your oral hygiene routine, such as using a specialized mouthwash that’s designed to treat dry mouth or help prevent gingivitis, or it might mean making bigger lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking or other forms of tobacco use. Either way, it’s an invaluable discussion to have, and Dr. Staley will be happy to take the time to discuss these topics with you and help guide you through the process.
What are the implications if gingivitis is left untreated?
When gingivitis is left untreated, the bacteria continue to grow and spread until your gum disease develops into periodontitis. During this stage of gum disease, bacteria cause your gums to pull away from your teeth. This breaks the seal that protects your tooth roots from bacteria, allowing them to make their way underneath your gum line, and the bacteria begin attacking the roots and other supporting structures of your teeth, including your gums. Periodontitis can do permanent damage to your gums and your teeth, sometimes leading to tooth loss if it’s left untreated.
Periodontitis doesn’t just impact your oral health, though. It can also have a very real and very serious impact on your overall health. Once beneath your gum line, bacteria can make their way into your bloodstream, increasing your risk of developing serious health conditions like high blood pressure, pregnancy complications, cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, and more. Even inhaling the abundance of bacteria present in your mouth when you have periodontitis can increase your chances of developing respiratory illnesses like pneumonia.
Just like gingivitis, periodontitis is often easy to miss at home—at least, until it reaches advanced stages and begins causing more obvious symptoms like pain, loose teeth, and a change in your bite. In addition to being more severe than gingivitis, periodontitis is also harder to treat. More minor cases of periodontitis can sometimes be treated with root scaling or planing, but many need more involved surgical procedures to thoroughly clean beneath the gum line. Because of this, it’s always best to identify and treat gum disease as soon as possible—ideally, before gingivitis turns into periodontitis!
While gums are rarely the first aspect of oral health we think about, keeping them healthy is just as important as keeping your teeth healthy. Thankfully, identifying and treating gingivitis early is incredibly easy if you stick to visiting Dr. Staley for your regular dental appointment every six months. And, once you know how, preventing gingivitis is usually easy too! Additionally, Dr. Staley is always willing to work with you and discuss your risk factors to help you take the best possible care of your gum health at home. If you’d like to learn more about periodontal disease and your risk factors for it, or if it’s time to schedule your six-month appointment, feel free to schedule a consultation with Dr. Staley at any time!