Bacterial infections of the gums inside the mouth are, unfortunately, very common. Gum disease is a bacterial infection of the gums, and it affects almost half of the adults in the United States. These infections can range from mild to so severe that they are life threatening!
It is important to understand the causes, treatment options, and preventive actions you can take against gum infections. This week’s blog will outline the details for you.
The underlying cause of gum infections is always dental plaque. The bacteria that cause gum disease live within dental plaque that sticks to the teeth. We all have mouths full of bacteria. When plaque accumulates in large amounts, the type of bacteria actually changes! Heavy plaque buildup attracts more dangerous disease-causing bacteria than the types of bacteria present in a healthy, clean mouth.
Gum infections also have several predisposing factors. While the primary cause is always the buildup of dental plaque, there are certain factors that increase the risk for plaque buildup to cause gum infections.
The purpose of oral hygiene (brushing and flossing your teeth every day) is to remove dental plaque. Because dental plaque accumulates every single day, we must perform good oral hygiene every day to remove it. Poor oral hygiene can take two forms: it can be inconsistent, and it can be ineffective.
Inconsistent oral hygiene means that someone is not performing the brushing and flossing tasks on a regular basis. This allows more dental plaque to collect on the teeth. Ineffective oral hygiene means that while someone might be brushing and flossing regularly, his or her technique is not effectively removing the dental plaque. So the result is still too much dental plaque on the teeth.
When someone suffers from a dry mouth, it means his or her body is not producing enough saliva. Saliva is an essential part of having a healthy mouth. Without it, the mouth lacks the defense it provides against dental plaque. A dry mouth has worse plaque buildup in both quantity and quality. The amount of plaque increases without saliva to help lubricate the teeth and flush away debris. The quality of dental plaque suffers without saliva as well. It becomes much stickier and more difficult to remove from the teeth. A dry mouth makes good oral hygiene more difficult.
You might find it unusual that we have grouped these two categories together, but there is a reason. Both smoking and diabetes cause a loss of blood flow to the gums. This decrease in the blood supply changes the body’s response to gum disease, allowing the infection to spread and worsen more rapidly.
Both people who smoke and those with diabetes have a much more difficult time treating gum disease successfully. Because there is a lack of blood flow to the gums, these patients are often unaware of the presence of the disease. It stops them from experiencing the “normal” symptoms of inflammation when the disease starts.
One unusual predisposing factor to gum disease is large swings in hormone levels. We commonly see severe gingivitis in our young patients undergoing puberty and women who are pregnant or going through menopause. The hormonal changes make the gums hypersensitive. This means that even the smallest amount of dental plaque buildup causes a noticeable inflammatory reaction. The result is bright red, swollen gums that bleed very easily.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection, and it also creates an inflammatory response by the body. Over time, when left untreated, the acute inflammation transitions into a state of chronic inflammation, which is destructive in nature. The destruction of the gums and underlying jawbone can lead to the loss of teeth.
The dental consequences of gum infections include bad breath, loose teeth, loss of teeth, inadequate jawbone to hold dental implants in the future, and changes in the appearance of the face. What is unusual about gum disease is that its consequences extend far beyond the mouth.
Studies in recent decades link chronic gum disease with serious health problems like cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. People with gum infections are more likely to suffer from these medical conditions than those with healthy gums.
The treatment for gum infections depends on the severity of the infection. The goal of any treatment is the removal of all bacterial buildup. As you might expect, the disease worsens and spreads as more bacterial buildup accumulates in the form of dental plaque and hard tartar (also called calculus).
When your dentist catches a gum problem in its earliest stages, a professional teeth cleaning may provide complete resolution of the problem. As the disease worsens, with bacteria extending underneath the gums onto the roots of the teeth, more invasive treatment is necessary to clean it away. Some people refer to this stage as a “deep cleaning”. Officially, we call it scaling and root planing. This procedure, performed by your dentist or dental hygienist, typically requires two visits and local anesthetic to keep the patient comfortable.
When the disease is in late stages, surgical intervention may be necessary to access the areas of bacterial buildup on the roots of the teeth. The broad category of gum surgery includes multiple techniques aimed at removing bacteria and promoting the best healing and reattachment possible for the supporting structures around the teeth.
Some teeth with gum infections have a hopeless prognosis, meaning they are unlikely to respond to treatment successfully. In these situations, the best course of action is extraction of the hopeless teeth.
Almost all gum infections are preventable. Since the cause of gum disease is dental plaque, we can prevent the infections from developing by consistently and effectively removing the dental plaque. When you remove the plaque from your teeth every day, the disease cannot take hold!
Great plaque removal must include both brushing and flossing. Flossing is the only way to effectively remove dental plaque from between the teeth. You can add mouthwash for a variety of benefits, but it is not an essential part of plaque removal.
For specific recommendations, ask your dental hygienist for tips at your next professional teeth cleaning. He or she can show you good brushing and flossing techniques, point out areas you might be missing in your home care routine, and recommend specific products for you to use.
Consistent dental visits are an important part of preventing dental infections. Your dentist can catch the early warning signs of an impending problem and provide the treatment necessary to prevent full-blow disease from developing.
Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to schedule a consultation with one of our oral health experts. We can answer any question you have about gum infections and assess your current situation. If you have active gum disease, we will help you get started in the treatment process. Our goal is for every Premier Dental patient to have a completely healthy mouth!