In our last post, we talked about how dental implants can dramatically improve the lives of individuals who are missing one or more teeth. Did you know that on average, an American adult has lost three teeth (or at least three teeth that are severely damaged)? It’s true! While accidents do happen, most teeth are lost because of periodontal disease, also known as gum disease.
Gum disease is a national problem, and here in our Plano, TX dental practice we certainly see our fair share. As dental professionals, we believe that our job is to protect our patients’ teeth. We accomplish that through exams, cleanings, and by repairing damaged teeth if it’s called for. However, a big part of our job doesn’t take place inside your mouth: education is one of the best tools to prevent serious oral health problems among our patients and the public in general.
In the next three posts, we’ll examine gum disease:
- What is gum disease, and what causes it?
- What are the types of gum disease, and what are the symptoms?
- What are the risk factors that increase your chances of developing gum disease?
What is Gum Disease?
Gum disease is as common as it is destructive; half of adults over the age of 30 have gum disease at one stage or another, and it is the leading cause of tooth loss in the US. Just by being in that age bracket, your chances of developing gum disease are already at 50%, and other factors can raise your risk even higher.
Gum disease is the degradation of oral tissues (primarily the gums) and bones that are responsible for keeping your teeth in place. If left untreated, gum disease leads to tooth loss.
What’s most unfortunate about gum disease and the pain and trauma it causes is that it is easily preventable! All it takes is a good oral hygiene routine (twice a day brushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash) and making regular appointments with your dentist for exams and cleaning, at least twice a year.
Understanding Plaque’s Role
Have you ever wondered why it’s so important to brush, floss, and rinse twice daily? It’s not just so you have minty fresh breath most of the day. Regular cleaning of your teeth regulates the bacteria that naturally live in your mouth and gets rid of food particles. It’s also needed to remove plaque from your teeth. Most have heard of plaque before, but few actually know what it is and how it is related to oral health problems like gum disease.
Your mouth is home to bacteria: lots and lots of bacteria. There are many different species of bacteria in your mouth, and they live on the food particles that get stuck in your mouth. There is nothing that you can do to get rid of this bacteria completely. Oral bacteria are just a part of having a mouth!
The bacteria live on the surface of your teeth. There is so much bacteria, it actually sticks together, forming what is called a biofilm. That biofilm is plaque. If you’ve ever gone a day or two without brushing, you can actually feel it on the surface of your teeth. Plaque is how the bacteria make your mouth their home; they can even communicate with one another through a system of chemical signals called quorum sensing. This communication is how the bacteria more or less coordinate how best to take advantage of the environment your mouth presents.
Plaque spreads over the surface of your teeth, but it also forms layers: bacteria stacked on top of bacteria. Plaque grows all the time and you brush, floss, and rinse to keep it in check; plaque is a soft substance, and is easy to remove.
However, if you don’t brush your teeth, the soft plaque will transform into a substance called dental calculus (though you might know it better as tartar). Dental calculus provides an ideal environment for bacteria to live in, and it is very difficult to remove: dental calculus is as hard as bone, and your dentist will have to remove it for you with specialized tools (and not a small amount of elbow grease).
Let your oral hygiene go long enough (or you just don’t do a very thorough job when you brush), the dental calculus and plaque grow and grow until it goes below the gum line. The bacteria that live in your mouth and were more or less harmless are now a serious infection, and your immune system begins to fight back.
Your immune system has a powerful weapon to fight infections: inflammation. You’re probably familiar with inflammation you can see: if you have a bug bite for example, the swelling, redness, and itching are all signs that your immune system is sending in wave after wave of antibodies to destroy the infection in the area and get rid of damaged tissue. The problem with inflammation is that it stays on until the job is done: when your body recognizes that the infection is gone and the threat is neutralized, it shuts off inflammation so healing can begin. However, if the infection persists, inflammation becomes a problem because it starts to destroy healthy tissues, and even bone.
Over time, that tissue and bone breaks down to the point where it can’t hold your teeth in place any longer. At that point, your tooth will have to be extracted (or you could just wait for it to fall out).
2 by 2!
The threat of gum disease is a good enough reason for you to improve your oral hygiene regimen. Just remember 2 by 2:
- Twice Daily: Brush, floss, and rinse with mouthwash to regulate oral bacteria and plaque build up.
- Twice Yearly: Make and keep appointments with your dentist for cleanings and exams.
Has it been a while since your last exam? You are at a considerable risk of developing gum disease!
Don’t let gum disease destroy your oral health, your smile, and your confidence. Make the call now!
Call 1st in Smiles: 972-905-9266 now!