The primary reason for tooth loss in adults is gum disease. Dr. Dennis wants to help you keep your teeth all your life, which is why she places such importance on diagnosing, preventing, and treating gum disease.
What is Gum Disease?
When we eat, bacteria feed on the leftover food particles in your mouth to create a sticky substance called plaque. The bacteria become embedded in the plaque and produce toxins that cause gum inflammation. The plaque in turn draws minerals from your saliva and hardens into calculus, also called tartar. All of this can lead to the destruction of the gum and bone tissues that support your teeth.
The illustration to the left shows both healthy gum tissue and bone structure alongside diseased and receding gums. At the outset, when plaque and tartar are only causing inflammation of the gums, periodontal disease is called gingivitis. Once it advances to the point where it is degrading the bone that supports the teeth, it is called periodontitis. Much like arthritis, periodontitis is a chronic inflammatory disease. It dissolves the structures that support the teeth, and it can progress for years before there are any noticeable symptoms. For many people their first symptom is that their teeth are loose, and by that time it is often too late for to save the teeth.
Symptoms of Gum Disease
Bleeding gums are one of the early warning signs of the earliest stage of periodontal disease. Unfortunately, too many people ignore that. The American Dental Association lists the symptoms of gum disease as follows:
- Red, swollen, or tender gums, or gums that tend to bleed
- Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
- Pus between the teeth and gums when the gums are pressed
- Persistent bad breath or bad taste in your mouth
- Permanent teeth that are loose or separating
- Any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
- Any change in the fit of partial dentures
Diagnosing Periodontal Disease
Most of the symptoms listed above indicate advanced periodontal disease, so you don’t want to wait until your disease is symptomatic. However, Dr. Dennis has several tools available to assist in diagnosis and is able to detect periodontal disease in its earliest stages, even to the point of telling, in some cases, when you are genetically disposed to periodontal disease with Oral DNA testing. X-rays are an invaluable tool because they will show the earliest stages of bone loss. A simple periodontal probe will detect any loss of attachment between the gum tissue and the tooth.
The initial therapy for gum disease is a process called scaling and root planing. This is a deep cleaning where calculus and microbial debris is removed from the surface of the tooth both above and below the gum line. This prepares the surface of the tooth and the soft tissues to heal and reattach. Anesthetic can make this cleaning more comfortable, and it is usually spread out over two or more appointments. Medication and antimicrobial irrigation under the gums may also be part of this initial therapy.
Laser technology is an effective way to enable minimally invasive removal of both subgingival inflamed tissue and calculus deposits and to prepare periodontal pockets and the surface of the tooth for healing and new attachment. Generally painless, usually no anesthetic is necessary.
The Connection between Gum Disease and Whole Body Health
Recently, researchers have discovered a correlation between periodontal disease and other general diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Dr. Dennis is a founding member of the American Association for Oral Systemic Health, and is working to help get information about these connections out to the general public. For more information on this, please see our page on oral systemic health.
Maintaining Gum Health
Gum disease isn’t cured by all of this treatment, it is only controlled. So after you have received gum therapy, you will need to engage in more rigorous hygiene routines in order to keep it at bay. Flossing is particularly important, because the interproximal area, between your teeth, is the area most susceptible. Flossing every day keeps calculus formation at a minimum. More frequent professional cleanings are also important to keep the calculus under control. Dr. Dennis will make sure you have a full understanding of everything you need to do to save your teeth.
If you have any of the symptoms of gum disease, call our office or request an appointment online. We’ll be here to help you find an appointment time that works for your schedule.