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Risk Factors and Treatments for Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease, more commonly known as gum disease, affects nearly half of all adults in the United States.

Most of us are familiar with the basics of oral care, but gingivitis and tooth decay still affect millions of Americans every year. Below, we’ll discuss the details of periodontal disease, factors that put you at risk, and your treatment options if gum disease is giving you grief.

What is periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease involves a variety of illnesses in our mouth and jaw. It can range from mild gum inflammation to serious infection of the soft tissues and bones that support our teeth. 

When we eat or drink, sugars and carbohydrate residue sticks to our teeth. The natural bacteria that live in our mouths flock to this debris and form a film over our teeth called plaque. Over time, the bacteria in this plaque reacts with food particles to form acid, which breaks down tooth enamel. When these acids eat through the tooth, cavities form. When these acids irritate the gum line, our gums become inflamed and begin to recede. This gum recession is the mildest form of gum disease, known as gingivitis. 

As the decay continues, plaque can spread below the gum line and further irritate soft tissue. If left untreated, the bacteria can infect the tissues within our jaws, causing further gum separation and weakening the ligaments that hold our teeth in place. Advanced periodontal disease may involve tooth loss and infection of bone in the jaw—usually requiring surgery to correct.

Beyond the scope of oral health, the plaque buildup that leads to periodontal disease has been linked to more severe systemic problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and certain cancers, including pancreatic and prostate cancer. This is why we here at Wellness Centered Dentistry emphasize “cause-oriented treatment” that aims at eliminating problems before they occur.

What are the risk factors?

The primary risk factor for gum disease is poor oral hygiene. Plaque buildup takes around 24 hours to harden, making daily brushing and flossing essential for good oral health. Due to our incorporation of the Dental Fitness Program - a system that monitors your periodontal status at every hygiene visit - we have seen remarkable results in our patients’ efforts to minimize their periodontal risk. Our preventative approach is unparalleled in our community. And while oral hygiene is the cornerstone of preventing gum disease, other lifestyle considerations can have an impact too:

How is periodontal disease treated?

The first line of defense against gum disease is proper patient education. Finding a dental team that partners with you and gives you the tools to maximize the benefits of your at-home care is essential! For those seeing evidence of the onset of periodontal disease, the first options should be lifestyle modifications, such as brushing often and effectively, quitting smoking, or better managing diabetes.

When lifestyle adjustments aren’t enough, your dentist may suggest scaling and root planing: scraping the plaque from below the gum lines and buffing the tooth surface to remove bacteria and buildup.

If scaling and root planing doesn’t do the trick (usually only in cases of advanced periodontal disease), your dentist may suggest surgery. Treatments may include flap surgery, where Dr. Hsu or a periodontist restructures the gum tissue to remove infection and fit more snugly against the tooth. We commonly refer to this as “crown lengthening” or “osseous surgery” in the dental community. If infection is present deeper in the jaw, bone and tissue grafts may be necessary. These involve removal of damaged tissue or bone followed by replacement grafts being inserted to support healthy tissue growth. 

Should I worry about periodontal disease?

For most of us, periodontal disease is preventable with proper oral hygiene. This is why we emphasize educating our patients on ways to improve their oral health at every hygiene visit and make it a matter of routine to assess your risk for periodontal disease. While we make an effort to continually inform you as to your level of periodontal health, if you notice unusual redness, swelling, or pockets forming around your gum line, speak with Dr. Hsu or Merry regarding your periodontal disease risk. We are always happy to spend the time to review proper oral hygiene with you so that you can minimize your risk of periodontal disease - along with the numerous other potential health risks associated with unresolved plaque!

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