Gum disease is one of the most widespread health problems in the world, and it can have devastating effects. While most people think of cancer or heart disease as the big names in the pathology world, gum disease is no minor contender. Periodontitis, or gum disease, can cause tooth loss, bone loss, and has been linked with deadly systemic health problems like cardiovascular disease and pancreatic cancer– in addition to eroding the confidence and self-esteem of those suffering from it.
Patients are often told the effects of gum disease, but it may be more helpful to address the progression of gum health problems: what happens, and what to look for. Information like this empowers everyone to take charge of their own health because they understand what’s happening. Rather than delving into that heart of darkness of gum disease disaster stories, let’s talk about where it starts…
What is gingivitis?
Gingivitis means inflammation of the gingiva, or gum tissue, and it is a wildly common situation. It most often appears as redness, swelling, and bleeding of the gums. Patients may report bleeding and pain when they brush, but sometimes people have gingivitis and don’t even know it!
Many patients are found to have gingivitis– most often as a result of not flossing. or cleaning properly around the gum line. But why does neglecting to floss now and then lead to gum problems?
Bacteria never sleep
Our microscopic frenemies, bacteria, are renowned for causing cavities– that’s why everyone learns to brush their teeth from an early age and to seek regular dental care. But often, we don’t learn that bacteria impact our gums just as much as our tooth enamel.
When bacteria aren’t properly cleaned from the gumline, they stay there, and they multiply– rapidly. Tucked into a snug hollow between your teeth and gum tissue, these microbial ne’er-do-wells form colonies protected by an extracellular matrix, eventually creating a tiny bacterial metropolis, known as dental plaque.
Once they’ve set up shop, bacteria eat all the sugars they can find in your mouth– sugars left behind after you eat or fail to properly brush. They metabolize these sugars, just as we do, but the problem is that their metabolic byproducts are acidic and severely irritate the gum tissue that they’re living on– yours.
Your body responds to this irritation through its inflammatory process: redness, swelling, and a higher temp in the inflamed area. This reaction commonly results in pain, and can produce bad breath! It’s also the reason why flossing daily shouldn’t be skipped; it takes almost no time at all for bacteria to multiply and work their dark magic.
Gingivitis: harbinger of evil
The symptoms of gingivitis are uncomfortable, but they can be reversed with strict dental hygiene and attention to a cleaner gumline. The real fear dentists have with persistent gingivitis is the onset of periodontitis, which is a much more serious gum disease. If left untreated and allowed to worsen, gingivitis can lead to periodontitis.
In periodontitis, the gums start to pull back from the teeth in response to the constant harassment of bacterial acid. Complications of periodontitis run the gamut from recessed, sore gums to loss of teeth, oral ulcers, or even bone abscesses and eventual bone loss.
The avoidable truth
While all the news about gingivits may seem horrifying, in truth it is a cautionary tale. This is because gingivitis is almost exclusively avoidable through proper oral hygiene.
Flossing at least once a day and paying special attention to the gum line when you brush is the best way to avoid gum disease (in addition to bad breath.) The use of waterpics is also a new addition to dental care that some patients have found helpful, as is brushing with an electric toothbrush.
Keep gums healthy with your Clackamas dentist
Gums and teeth stay healthy with regular dental appointments. Call to schedule your next appointment today– we look forward to seeing you!