How Gum Disease Begins, And How To Prevent It!

Posted on Jun 27, 2018 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

When we wake up in the morning, we all have a bit of a coating in our mouths that makes us feel ‘not-so-fresh.’ Morning breath occurs because, during the night, oral bacteria accumulate and form a film that coats the teeth, tongue and gum tissues.

For people who are diligent about twice-daily brushing and flossing before bedtime, this helps to minimize the amount of bacteria that accumulate throughout the night. However, during sleep, saliva flow is at a minimum.

Saliva helps to move bacteria out of the mouth on a continual basis. This means that the rinsing action you get from saliva during the day is less helpful during sleep. Thus, oral bacteria build up over the course of 8 or so hours.

For those who do not have a thorough brushing and flossing routine, oral bacteria amass at a much faster rate, of course. The level of bacteria vary tremendously from an individual who has a thorough oral hygiene regimen versus someone who is less frequent and/or less thorough.

Keep in mind that oral bacteria are living organisms. Bacteria thrive in an environment that is warm, moist and dark. In the mouth, they subsist on gum tissues and food particles (the reason why you should floss to dislodge that bit of pork chop caught between teeth). And, bacteria breed – in your mouth. The more there are, the faster they reproduce in number.

As oral bacteria grow, they form a film that coats the teeth and gums, known as plaque. Plaque forms quickly, so quickly it can be felt just by running your tongue over teeth at the end of the day before brushing.

If plaque is not removed on a daily basis, it can harden into a substance known as tartar, or calculus. This cement-hard mass of bacteria attaches to teeth. It can no longer be brushed or flossed away and is only removable by dental caregivers using special tools.

Once tartar is attached to teeth, bacterial growth continues, attacking tooth enamel and gum tissues. When the bacteria levels accumulate to more than the immune system can manage, the gum tissues become tender and swollen. This is gingivitis, the beginning of gum disease.

As a normal part of the digestive process, an acid attack begins in the mouth, which helps to break foods down as we chew. This occurs every time you eat or drink. For those who snack often or consume food and beverages slowly (such as sipping a cola or sucking on a piece of hard candy over an extended period of time), these acids are a continual bombardment of acid to tooth enamel. You may be surprised to learn that these acids are so potent they can actually soften tooth enamel.

As the growth of bacteria penetrate beneath the gum line, they are able to attack the structures that support teeth. As bacterial growth continues, the inflammation spreads and the gums become sore and bleed easily when brushing teeth.

As it progresses, bad breath becomes a frequent problem with inflamed gums and the gums will turn red. At this point, the infection in your gums can no longer be overcome with at home care.

As the infectious bacteria spread further, it can cause pus pockets to form. The damage to gum tissues and bone structures that support teeth will cause some teeth to loosen, requiring eventual removal.

Decades ago, it was found that this potent bacteria is able to penetrate gum tissues and enter the bloodstream. Once bloodborne, oral bacteria are able to travel throughout the body and trigger inflammatory reactions far beyond the mouth. This is known as systemic inflammation and is now known to cause a number of health problems.

Research has shown links between oral bacteria and heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, preterm babies, some cancers, high blood pressure, impotency and even Alzheimer’s disease. As a matter of fact, the make-up of tissues from oral bacteria and that of affected arthritis joints are nearly identical — both being inflammatory diseases.

Yet, this destructive process can be easily avoided. By devoting 2-3 minutes twice a day to proper brushing (at least two minutes each time) and daily flossing (which requires a minute, typically), you can prevent this barrage of inflammatory bacteria growth, risk of tooth loss, and risk for serious health problems.

Gum disease is the nation’s number one cause of adult tooth loss even though it is one of the most preventable of all diseases. Even so, nearly half of American adults have some level of gum disease. Are you one of them?

Make a commitment to take charge of your smile and your overall health through a thorough oral hygiene regimen of brushing, flossing, and having 6-month dental checkups. Know the signs and symptoms of gum disease and react quickly to have treatment.

If you’re behind on dental checkups and are experiencing any of the symptoms of gum disease mentioned earlier, don’t wait until “something hurts” to schedule a periodontal exam. A periodontist is a dental specialist who has advanced training in treating all stages of gum disease and in the placement of dental implants. He or she is your surest way to a healthy, confident smile.

We’ll begin by restoring your mouth to a healthy state so it’s easy to maintain. Call 828-274-9440 to schedule an initial exam.




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