Q: What is Gum Disease?
A: Gum disease, or periodontal disease, is a chronic inflammation and infection of the gums and surrounding tissue. It is the major cause of about 70 percent of adult tooth loss, affecting three out of four persons at some point in their life. Periodontal diseases include gingivitis and periodontitis.
Q: What causes gum disease?
A: Bacterial plaque – a sticky, colorless film that constantly forms on the teeth – is recognized as the primary cause of gum disease. If plaque isn't removed each day by brushing and flossing, it hardens into a rough, porous substance called calculus (also known as tartar). Toxins produced and released by bacteria in plaque irritate the gums. These toxins cause the breakdown of the fibers that hold the gums tightly to the teeth, creating “pockets” that fill with even more toxins and bacteria. As the disease progresses, the pockets extend deeper, and the bacteria moves down until the bone that holds the tooth in place is destroyed. The tooth eventually will fall out or require extraction.
Q: Are there other factors?
A: Yes. Genetics is also a factor, as are lifestyle choices. A diet low in nutrients can diminish the body's ability to fight infection. Smokers and spit tobacco users have more irritation to gum tissues than non-tobacco users, while stress can also affect the ability to ward off disease. Diseases that interfere with the body's immune system, such as leukemia and AIDS, may worsen the condition of the gums. In patients with uncontrolled diabetes, where the body is more prone to infection, gum disease is more severe or harder to control. Pregnant women experience elevated levels of hormones that cause the gums to react differently to the bacteria found in plaque, and in many cases can cause a condition known as “pregnancy gingivitis.”
Q: What are the warning signs of gum disease?
A: Signs include red, swollen or tender gums, bleeding while brushing or flossing, gums that pull away from teeth, loose or separating teeth, pus between the gum and tooth, persistent bad breath, a change in the way teeth fit together when the patient bites and a change in the fit of dentures. While patients are advised to check for the warning signs, there might not be any discomfort until the disease has spread to a point where the tooth is unsalvageable. That's why patients are advised to get frequent dental exams.
Q: What does periodontal treatment involve?
A: In the early stages of gum disease, most treatment involves a special cleaning called scaling and root planing, which removes plaque and tartar around the tooth and smoothes the root surfaces. Antibiotics or antimicrobials may be used to supplement the effects of scaling and root planing. In most cases of early gum disease, called gingivitis, scaling and root planing and proper daily cleaning achieve a satisfactory result. More advanced cases may require surgical treatment, which involves cutting the gums – sometimes with the assistance of a laser – and removing the hardened plaque build-up and recontouring the damaged bone. The procedure is also designed to smooth root surfaces and reposition the gum tissue so it will be easier to keep clean.
Q: How do you prevent gum disease?
A: Removing plaque through daily brushing and flossing and professional cleaning is the best way to minimize your risk. Dr. Chetty can design a personalized program of home oral care to meet your needs. Depending on the severity, a specialist may be involved in your treatment.
Q: Is maintenance important?
A: Sticking to a regular oral hygiene regimen is crucial for patients who want to sustain the results of periodontal therapy. Patients should visit the dentist every three to four months (or more, depending on the patient) for spot scaling and root planing and an overall exam. In between visits, they should brush at least twice a day, floss daily and brush their tongue. Manual soft nylon bristle brushes are the most dependable and least expensive. Electric brushes are a very good option because the make it easier to effectively and consistently clean your teeth. Proxy brushes (small, narrow brushes) and other interdental cleaners are the best way to clean between the recesses in the teeth and should be used once a day. Wooden toothpicks and rubber tips should only be used if recommended by Dr. Chetty.
Q: Gingivitis vs. Gum Disease: What's the Difference?
A: Eighty percent of American adults have some form of periodontal (gum) disease, but the beginning symptoms are usually painless, so many who are at risk do not recognize the signs and stages, according to a report in the September/October 2003 issue of General Dentistry, the clinical, peer-reviewed journal of the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD).
"Gum disease is a silent teeth killer because you can have it without knowing it," says AGD spokesperson Elwood Streeter, DDS. Healthy gums appear coral pink, are firm, and form a sharp point where they meet the tooth. When excessive amounts of bacteria and food debris build up in the spaces between the teeth and gums, a sticky material called plaque is formed.
A plaque build-up can develop and harden into calculus (tartar), which irritates the gums. Bacterial byproducts (or toxins) in the tartar cause gums to become infected, red and tender, a condition called gingivitis. Gingivitis is the beginning stage of periodontal disease.
If you do not receive professional cleaning to halt the spread of gingivitis, the infection will spread from the gums to the ligaments and bone supporting the teeth. The tissues and ligaments will be destroyed; infections are likely to develop, causing a gum abscess, a collection of pus and swelling of gum tissues. Teeth may become loose and the gums may recede, creating increased spaces between teeth.
Dentists treat gingivitis by cleaning teeth to remove plaque and tartar and prescribing special mouthwashes or topical treatments. Treatment for periodontal disease involves more serious action such as antibiotics and antimicrobials, deep scaling of the root surface, removing infected gum tissue or extracting teeth. To avoid these potentially painful symptoms and treatments, it is important to catch the disease in its earlier stages. "Gum disease can develop within weeks," cautions Itzhak Brook, MD, MSc, lead author of the journal report. He reminds patients to prevent periodontal disease by regular flossing, brushing and dental checkups. In addition, maintaining a healthy diet and low levels of stress boost the body's natural immune system, which fights bacteria in the mouth. Early warning signs of gum disease: Bleeding gums when brushing or flossing Mouth sores Bright red, red-purple or shiny gums Gums that are tender to the touch
New Technology in the Dental Office
Dentistry has come a long way in making patient checkups more comfortable. With today's technology, dentists are better equipped to detect and treat tooth decay and perform other procedures with maximum comfort. At Eagle Rock Family Dentistry, we feel that it is important to use the newest technology to make your treatment better, faster, and easier. Here are some of the conveniences that we offer at our office
. Air abrasion
Air abrasion is a procedure used to remove small areas of decay or to prepare a tooth for the placement of restorations or sealants. This procedure uses an air compression device to deliver, under pressure, tiny particles of aluminum oxide onto the surface of a tooth structure to blast away decay. This is similar to sandblasting a building in order to clean it.
With air abrasion, discomfort is minimized and many patients do not need any anesthesia. Children and adults who are fearful of needles, noise or the vibration of a regular dental handpiece may prefer this option if it is available. Air abrasion cannot be used as an alternative for every procedure.
The intraoral camera is a wand-like device that projects a magnified picture from a patient's mouth onto the computer screen. The image allows both Dr. Chetty and you, the patient, to see fractured teeth, receding gums, and broken restorations, such as fillings. After these pictures are taken, we are better able to diagnose and recommend treatment for their patients. The pictures also can provide documentation for insurance companies.
Similar to traditional X-ray systems, digital radiography allows dentists to detect decay, bone loss and help with root canals. To take a digital X-ray, dentists will place a sensor on the tooth that looks like a piece of film. The process is a little faster than a traditional X-ray system, so patients’ exposure to radiation is decreased.
Once the picture is taken, dentists can adjust the contrast and brightness to optimize diagnosis and find even the smallest areas of decay. Another benefit of digital radiography is the elimination of chemicals to process the film. The time to develop photos is reduced and can eliminate treatment disruptions.