To understand gum disease, otherwise known as periodontal disease, it helps to understand the relationship between your teeth and your gums. Your gums, the pink area above your teeth are known as the gingiva. The gingiva is the support structure for your teeth. Within your gums is the socket for your teeth. The roots of your teeth are embedded in the socket and are anchored by periodontal ligaments. Between your teeth and your gums is a V-shaped gap called the sulcus. When you get an infection in the gums, the sulcus can shrink. This causes your teeth and your gums to separate. This separation invites infection to the tissue and the result is gum disease.
Gum infections are referred to as gingivitis if they only infect the gums. As the infection worsens it spreads. When it spreads, it can also infect the connecting tissue and the bones. This spread of infection is called periodontitis.
Peridontitis, left untreated, causes complications that can affect not only your teeth and gums, but can lead to bone loss in the jaw, and can spread further into the body from there. Usually it is painless, so you won’t notice it.
The cause of this infection is plaque. Plaque is a bacterial film that is on your teeth left by the food you eat and the liquids you drink. When you brush your teeth, this plaque is removed, which is why it’s important to brush after every meal.
Even though you don’t feel pain, there are signs that you will notice that could indicate gum disease. Your gums may bleed easily; when you brush your teeth or eat. The gums may be red and swollen or very tender to the touch. You could have persistent bad breath or you may have a bad taste in your mouth that you can’t identify. You could notice that your bite is different, for example, your teeth may not seem to fit together correctly. You may notice that your teeth have pulled away from your gums or that you feel your teeth are loose or shifting around in their place. If you have partial dentures, you may notice that the partials no longer feel comfortable or don’t fit correctly.
Gum disease is caused by any number of factors, but smoking, pregnancy, diabetes, certain prescription drugs and long illnesses are some of the more common causes. If you notice any of these symptoms, it is best to see your dentist sooner rather than later. When caught early, gum disease is easily treated with a minimum of damage or discomfort.
If you have gingivitis, you are in the early stage of gum disease and this is good for you. Getting treatment at this stage means that you will avoid the more serious consequences of gum disease and it is easily reversible. The symptoms of gingivitis are red, swollen gums that easily bleed. A professional cleaning and strict attention by to you brushing and flossing can reverse this early warning sign.
If you ignore the early warning signs and wait until you have full-blown periodontitis, you have now reached the advanced stages of gum disease. If at this point you do nothing, you risk bone and tissue loss which only gets worse over time. Your teeth could start to deteriorate, decay or even break. You may even notice that your teeth are loose in your mouth. Once advanced, your teeth may even start to fall out.
Advanced, or aggressive periodontal disease, is extremely destructive. Though you may appear healthy, your teeth and gums and their underlying structures are not. You may rapidly lose tissue and bone in some areas or all areas of your mouth may lose density, which is what causes your teeth to loosen.
As this disease advances, your appearance may change due to changes in the structure of your jaw. You may appear older than your years and the shape of your face may change as well. The ultimate end result is that you will most certainly lose some, if not all your teeth depending on how far the disease has progressed.
The good news is this is one disease you can easily prevent. Having regular dental checkups with your dentist is a good way to start. Your dentist may recommend that you have periodic periodontal exams as well, particularly if you are an at risk patient such as a smoker or a diabetic. If you do have gum disease, your dentist can create a treatment plan for you that will help arrest the disease. Most important is a good dental routine of brushing and flossing that you follow daily.