Tooth Decay. Loose Teeth. Bad Breath. Tooth Sensitivity. Tooth Loss. Heart Disease. Heart Attack. Stroke. Diabetes. Dementia. Pregnancy Problems. Low Birth-Weight Babies.
It’s quite a list and more gets added all the time.
Numerous scientific studies have suggested all these conditions may be caused or made worse by gum disease. The reason is simple; the vast number of bacteria involved don’t only attack what’s next to them, they can also enter the blood stream and be carried just about anywhere in the body damaging distant organs and upsetting the body’s self-repair mechanisms.
What is Gum Disease?
It’s the most common disease in the developed world. It can start in childhood and left untreated becomes a major cause of tooth loss.
Early gum disease, or gingivitis causes gums to become red and bleed during tooth brushing. Just a few days of not brushing properly can lead to this but the condition will go away when oral hygiene improves. If brushing does not improve the disease becomes more aggressive. Bacteria at the gum margin invade the space between the gum and the tooth and the poisons they produce cause the attachment of gum to tooth to break down. This loss of attachment causes a space or pocket to form between gum and tooth. As the pocket gets deeper it becomes more and more difficult to clean. In addition, the film of bacteria at the gum margin (plaque) takes up calcium from the saliva and hardens into calculus (tartar), a hard concretion like kettle-fur which cannot be brushed away. The calculus becomes a breeding-ground for more bacteria and the condition gets worse.
As loss of attachment continues the jawbone which holds the tooth in place becomes inflamed and begins to recede. The overlying gum may also recede at the same time causing part of the root of the tooth to become exposed into the mouth. Root is much softer than enamel and can easily decay. Because of its position this root decay (or root caries) can be very difficult to treat and often leads eventually to tooth loss. The exposed root can also become very sensitive to hot, cold, sweet, sour etc causing discomfort especially when eating and drinking and so spoiling our pleasure with these things.
As the jawbone continues to recede the tooth develops less and less support and eventually becomes loose. Without treatment at this stage loss of the tooth is inevitable and with each tooth lost the remaining teeth have to work harder, increasing the chances they will become overloaded and will be lost as well.
Gum disease is a slow process. There is no pain involved until the final stages when abscesses form around the roots. In some ways this is a pity; if gum disease hurt in its early stages far more people would seek treatment before it is too late.
Smoking makes gum disease much worse. As well as this it suppresses the bleeding from the gums normally associated with the disease. People who smoke often have no idea how serious their gum condition is unless it is professionally examined.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Gum Disease?
• Gums which bleed during tooth-brushing or bleed spontaneously
• Bad breath
• Loose teeth
• Gaps opening between the front teeth
• Teeth that change position, stick out etc
• A metallic, salty or bloody taste in the mouth
• Tooth sensitivity
• Receding gums
• Food increasingly getting stuck between the teeth during eating
Other Things Associated With Bleeding Gums
Bleeding gums can be a symptom of other diseases. Diseases that affect the immune system, leukaemia, diabetes, treatments for cancer and medicines to thin the blood can also lead to bleeding. Whatever the cause the condition needs to be monitored and treated.
Treatments For Gum Disease
It all begins with a careful diagnosis. Our existing patients are regularly monitored. New Patients are examined carefully for signs of gum disease and are recommended treatments appropriate to the findings of this examination.
Treatment of gum disease is a joint effort between the practice and the patient. The success or failure of treatment will absolutely depend on your co-operation and what you do at home. Prevention or curtailment of the disease can only happen if you fully understand why the situation has developed and what you can do about it yourself so we make every effort to educate our patients on best practice. This is absolutely not ‘telling people off’! Most patients have no idea what effective tooth cleaning is because no professional has ever told them!
After explaining the nature of the disease and its management we go on by measuring exactly how far the disease has progressed. The dentist or hygienist will then carefully clean the teeth and arrange review appointments to make sure progress has been made.
At the review appointment a long-term treatment plan will be presented. This may consist of only a recommendation for periodic cleanings or a recommendation for frequent appointments and regular x-rays to monitor bone levels. Patients who are unable to clean effectively, perhaps for example because of arthritis, other disabilities or dementia may be invited to make frequent hygiene appointments in order to reduce the bacteria in the mouth as much as possible.
Gum disease is a serious problem which affects many of us. Left untreated it can have devastating effects but working together we can minimise damage, save teeth, probably reduce the risk of serious health conditions and generally improve the quality of life.
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