A young woman is at the dentist getting her teeth check

Prevention and Treatment of Gum Disease

One of the most common oral health issues is gum disease. It’s also a major cause of tooth loss in adults.

The American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) estimates that approximately three out of four Americans suffer from some form of gum disease—from mild cases of gingivitis, to the more severe form known as periodontitis.

Causes of Periodontal Disease

Gum disease occurs when dental plaque is not removed by brushing your teeth daily. Dental plaque is a sticky substance made from leftover food particles and saliva that grows on surfaces within the mouth. Along with their toxins, bacteria in dental plaque breaks down gum tissues.

Gingivitis results when your body fires back with an inflammatory response, resulting in red, swollen gums.

Advanced gum, or periodontal, disease infects the tissues that support the teeth. As the tissue is attacked and the infection worsens, tooth loss can happen.

If you notice any of the following warning signs of gum disease, contact your dentist.

  • Rred, swollen or tender gums
  • Bleeding while brushing or flossing
  • Gums that pull away from the teeth and/or loose or separating teeth
  • Red, white or swollen areas in any part of your mouth
  • Persistent bad breath

You can have periodontal disease and not know it, so be sure to visit your dentist regularly. Periodontal disease can be detected by measuring the space between your teeth and gums.

Certain factors increase the risk for periodontal disease:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Stress
  • Heredity
  • Crooked teeth
  • Underlying immunodeficiencies (for example, AIDS)
  • Fillings that have become defective
  • Taking medications that cause dry mouth
  • Bridges that no longer fit properly
  • Hormonal changes, such as with pregnancy or the use of oral contraceptives

Left untreated, gum disease can lead to several other serious medical conditions, including diabetes, and heart disease, along with premature delivery and low-weight babies.

Gum Disease Prevention and Treatment

Good oral hygiene can prevent gum disease. Follow these steps to maintain healthy teeth and gums.

  • Practice regular dental care, which includes brushing after every meal and before bedtime, and flossing at least once a day
  • Visit your dentist twice a year for a professional cleaning. When plaque accumulates, it can mineralize, trapping stains and turning into tartar. Once tartar has formed, only your dentist or hygienist can remove it

If you develop advanced periodontitis, the bone and supporting tissues around your teeth are affected. Your gums and teeth may need to be treated surgically or removed.

  • Periodontal pocket reduction: If the gum tissue is not fitting snugly around the tooth and you can’t keep the deep pocket area clean, you may be a candidate for a periodontal pocket reduction. By folding back the gum tissue, your dentist or periodontist can remove infectious bacteria and smooth areas of damaged bone, allowing the gum tissue to reattach to healthy bone.
  • Gum grafts: Exposed roots due to gum recession can be covered with gum grafts where tissue is taken from your palate or from another source and used to cover the roots of one or more teeth. Covering exposed roots helps reduce sensitivity and protects your roots from decay, while stopping further gum recession and bone loss.
  • Bone grafting: This surgical procedure promotes the growth of bone where it’s been destroyed by periodontal disease. To help your body effectively regrow bone and tissue, your dentist or periodontist will eliminate bacteria, and then place either natural or synthetic bone around bone loss, along with tissue-stimulating proteins.
  • Dental implants: If you must have teeth removed, you can be fitted with a dental implant. This is an artificial tooth root that is placed into the jaw to hold a replacement tooth.