You CAN Avoid Gum Disease – Know How It Forms & Easy Prevention Tips

Posted on Dec 14, 2018 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

I know of so many friends and family members who have avoided or minimized serious health problems (and perhaps even death) by taking preventive measures when it comes to their health. Annual screenings (such as mammograms, prostate checks, pap smears, and colonoscopies, to name a few) have enabled countless people to simply treat or avoid serious conditions and get back to their lives and loved ones.

When we “take charge” of our health, we can also avoid the time and expense required for treating problems that could have been prevented in the first place. For example, not smoking helps us avoid the risk of many cancers and respiratory diseases. Eating a healthy diet and regular exercise lowers our risk for heart disease.

I believe that when people know what to do to avoid problems, they can be proactive in their health. This is especially true for periodontal (gum) disease. What I find is that many individuals are simply not familiar with effective prevention measures nor the signs and symptoms of this infectious disease.

People are often surprised to learn that gum disease first begins without obvious symptoms. Even when it’s fully underway, the warning signs are often ignored or deemed “normal.” For instance, seeing blood in the sink when brushing is a sign that the gums are weak and inflamed, even though some people assume this means they’re doing a good job. (BTW, you should NEVER see blood in the sink when brushing!)

The path that leads to gum disease can easily be bypassed, however. The process of how it forms and progresses is:

•  Oral Bacteria Overload: Bacteria in our mouths is unavoidable. It is on our food, utensils, the glasses we drink from and the pencil we hold between our teeth. Because the mouth is a warm, dark, and moist environment, it offers an ideal setting for bacterial growth. Although certain bacteria levels are manageable through brushing, flossing, and saliva flow, problems begin when too much bacteria accumulate and remain in the mouth.

•  Plaque: Without regular brushing, flossing, sufficient saliva flow, and low-sugar diet, oral bacteria can reproduce rapidly. Their accumulation can quickly form a sticky film that you feel on teeth (a ‘fuzzy’ feeling), known as plaque.

•  Tartar (or Calculus): In just 48 hours, plaque can harden on teeth. This is known as tartar (or calculus) and is actually a cement-hard mass of oral bacteria. Like plaque, tartar will continually grow as the bacteria reproduce. Their destruction includes boring into tooth enamel and eating away at gum tissues.

•  Gingivitis: This is actually the first phase of gum disease. At this stage, gum tissues are under attack and become sore. It can cause the gums to bleed when brushing and gum tenderness. You may experience an aching sensation in some areas. Your breath will be bad more often. By taking proper measures as soon as you notice these symptoms, the gums can be restored to a healthy state. However, there is a fine line between being able to undo gingivitis and its progression to gum disease.

•  Gum Disease: At this level, the gums are inflamed and tender and red rather than a healthy pink color. Your breath will be unpleasant on a consistent basis. The gums may also begin to pull away from the base of some teeth, exposing sensitive tooth root areas. As the inflammation progresses, pus pockets may form at the base of some teeth. Without treatment, teeth will loosen as the bacteria destroy the structures that support tooth roots. Eventually, tooth removal may be required.

Almost half of American adults have some level of periodontal disease, which is also the nation’s leading cause of adult tooth loss. Yet, it’s one of the most preventable diseases with simple measures.

It has also been found that the bacteria of gum disease can enter the bloodstream, triggering systemic inflammation. Gum disease has been linked to a long list of serious health problems. These include heart disease, some cancers (including prostate, lung, and pancreatic cancers), stroke, preterm babies, arthritis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and erectile dysfunction (ED).

Twice daily brushing (at least two minutes each time), daily flossing, drinking plenty of water, and limiting sweets and caffeine (including colas, tea, and coffee) are simple ways to keep your mouth healthy between regular dental check-ups and cleanings. Remember that your 6-month check-ups are very important. During these visits, any tartar that has accumulated can be removed and signs of early gum disease can be noted – and promptly resolved.

These simple steps can help you avoid the discomfort of gum disease as well as the devastation of losing your teeth and having to decide on replacement. These procedures – and the expense – can be avoided. And, contrary to what some people believe, losing teeth is NOT a natural part of the aging process. With proper care, you can easily enjoy a smile of natural teeth throughout your lifetime.

If you are experiencing symptoms of gingivitis or periodontal disease, call our Asheville periodontal office at 828-274-9440. As a periodontist, I have specialized skills to restore your oral health and customize a program to help you keep it at its best.

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