November 2, 2016
At Appalachian Dental Care in Boone, NC, we take gum disease very seriously. We think our patients should, too.
Gum disease begins when the bacteria that live in everyone’s mouths interact with a protein found in saliva. That creates a thin, sticky, invisible film called plaque. Plaque forms around the teeth on the gum line and adheres, keeping bacteria in close contact with the gum tissue and the teeth.
The bacteria in plaque feed off the sugars in our foods and secrete acids that attack the hard enamel covering our teeth. The acids also irritate the gums.
If plaque is left alone to do its dirty work, the acids begin to erode the dental enamel. If this goes on long enough, bacteria will create a cavity. And while that’s going on, the gums become irritated. You may see any or all of these changes:
- Gums can change from a healthy pink to a dusky red or even purple.
- Gums change from firm to puffy and tender.
- Gums may bleed when you brush or floss.
- Gums can begin to pull away from the teeth.
- You may have bad breath that nothing seems to help.
- You may even a bad taste in your mouth.
This is the first stage of gum disease, known as gingivitis.
Plaque is pretty easy to remove. Regular and thorough brushing and flossing will get it off your gums and your teeth so that the bacteria never have a chance to attack your teeth and gums. That’s why your dentist and your hygienist always tell you to brush twice a day and floss once.
But, mouths are kind of cramped places, and even dedicated brushers can miss tiny crevices. That’s why regular six-month checkups and cleanings (or even every three months if you have a history of gum disease) are so important. Professional cleanings will remove every last trace of plaque from your mouth, and Dr. Airey will be able to detect and repair any damage to your teeth.
When Gum Disease Gets Serious
Left alone for a long enough period of time, plaque hardens and turns into something called dental calculus, more commonly known as tartar. Once tartar is present, you won’t get it off by brushing or flossing. Tartar is harder than your dental enamel, which is the hardest naturally-occurring substance in the human body.
Tartar can also extend below the gumline, attacking the softer dentin layer that’s normally covered by above the gum line by dental enamel. Once the bacteria are through the dentin layer – whether above the gum line or below – the inner pulp and nerves of your teeth can become infected. As well, pockets of pus can form below the gum line where your toothbrush and floss simply can’t reach.
If the infection continues, it can attack the roots of your tooth, and the tooth can eventually fall out.
This stage of gum disease is known as periodontal disease, or periodontitis, and it absolutely demands professional treatment. Dental infections have been linked with a number of severe health conditions, including:
- Heart disease
- Lung problems
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Colorectal cancer
Treating Periodontal Disease
Dental tartar above the gumline is removed through a process called dental scaling. Typically, your hygienist will use metal instruments to carefully scrape away every trace of tartar from your teeth. Below the gumline, the process is called root planing. Dr. Airey will scrape the tartar from the tooth roots and then polish the roots to give bacteria fewer places to hide. Any pockets of pus are removed and Dr. Airey may prescribe an antibiotic in pill form, mouthwash, or rinse to help fight infection.
If infection has entered the tooth, a root canal will likely be needed to save the tooth.
If gum disease has progressed too far, Dr. Airey may refer to a periodontist, a specialist in treating advanced gum disease.
How Gum Grafting Can Help
Periodontal disease is tough on your gums. They may recede to the point where they look unsightly and don’t offer their usual support to help stabilize your teeth. And, you’ll have a greater chance of another infection.
You may think that nothing can be done for your gums, but that’s not true. Dr. Airey can perform a procedure known as a gum graft. This oral surgery technique uses healthy gum tissue from other places in your mouth and grafts it to your receded gum. The tissues grow together, and the resorted gums bring your gum line back, helping to stabilize and protect your teeth.
Don’t Guess About Gum Disease
If it’s been a while since your last cleaning and checkup; or, if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of gum disease, don’t wait! Schedule a cleaning and examination by calling our Boone, NC office at 828-355-5673 or by using our online form.