So, you have just been informed by your dentist that you have gum disease. Or, perhaps, you have noticed that your gums bleed when you brush or floss your teeth, and you are thinking “I don’t think they are supposed to do that…”. Now, you want to know more about this thing we call “gum disease”. Well, you have come to the right place! Let’s start with what gum disease is (and isn’t).
Let’s start with a sobering statistic: Approximately 90% of American adults have some form of gum disease! That’s incredible! But, I can tell you as a practicing dentist for 24 years that this statistic is absolutely true. I can also tell you that even I, a dentist, occasionally suffer from gum disease. Here is the important distinction: There are two types of gum disease, reversible and irreversible. The reversible type is called Gingivitis. Gingivitis is characterized by bleeding, swollen gums. Gingivitis is also rarely painful, so most people rarely notice a problem. This is especially true because almost 49% of adults believe that it is normal for your gums to bleed. Periodontitis is the irreversible form of gum disease. Why is it irreversible? The answer lies in understanding the disease process.
Gum disease is caused by the bacteria that collect around your teeth. This sticky film is called “plaque”. The toxins that the bacteria produce irritates the gums. This causes them to become swollen and bleed easily. Your gum tissue is actually as tough as your skin, and SHOULDN”T bleed when scraped by a toothbrush or floss. At this point, the disease is still just Gingivitis, and is completely reversible if the plaque is cleaned off with a toothbrush and floss, and kept clean. However, if the plaque stays for a long time, and the disease process continues, your body has an interesting defense mechanism. Think of what happens if you get a cut on your skin. The cut swells and turns red as your body sends white blood cells and other defense mechanisms to the area to fight the bacteria that have entered through the break in the skin. Your teeth and gums don’t work the same way. The bacterial toxins in gum disease are coming from the plaque stuck to the teeth. They are next to the gums, but not inside the gums. So, when your body does the same thing it does with the skin infection (sending white blood cells), the toxins don’t disappear, because the white blood cells can’t reach them on the surface of the tooth. So, after a period of time trying to fight the infection and losing, your body jumps to “Plan B”. Plan B is a more aggressive approach of getting away from the bacterial toxins. The bone that holds your teeth in (and the gums that are attached to it) starts to move down the root of the tooth, trying to put distance between the bacterial toxins and your gums and bone. The trouble is, it doesn’t work, and actually has a snowball effect. You see, your toothbrush and floss only reach about 3mm below the gum line. So, when the gums and bone recede, they make the gum pockets around your teeth deeper. This causes more plaque and bacteria to collect in an area that you can’t reach and clean. More plaque and bacteria cause a stronger reaction from your body, resulting in more bone loss, and the cycle continues. Eventually, you lose so much bone that your teeth appear very long, and they will get loose and need to be removed.
So, how do we treat gum disease? Well, if you only have Gingivitis, the treatment is very easy. We start with a thorough cleaning of your teeth, followed by instructions in how to keep them clean. The area most people miss is below the gum line between the teeth. Yup, you guessed it, the place where only floss reaches! But, there are easier alternatives to flossing. We highly recommend a Waterpik water flosser. In just a minute or so you will clean in between your teeth better than floss ever will. We also recommend interdental brushes called “proxi brushes” or “go betweens”. Anything that goes below the gum line between your teeth. I also highly recommend Crest Pro Health rinse. Make sure you get the non-alcoholic kind. Keep your teeth clean, and Gingivitis will disappear!
Now, what if you have Periodontitis, the irreversible form of gum disease? Does irreversible mean it can never be treated and you are doomed to lose your teeth? No! It just means that once the bone is lost, it’s nearly impossible to get it back. In some cases we can get some of it back with laser therapy, but it is better not to lose it! So, what is the treatment for Periodontitis? It starts with something called “scaling and root planing”, sometimes referred to as a “deep cleaning”. Our hygienist, Terri, will numb your mouth (usually one half per visit) and thoroughly clean all the surfaces of your teeth, most importantly, the root surfaces below the gum line. Once the bacteria and plaque are removed, and you are taught tools and techniques to keep them clean, the inflammation will go away, and the bone loss process will stop.
I know your next question is “Does the treatment always work?” Unfortunately, the answer is no. We are dealing with the complexities of the human body and our individual health status and immune system. For instance, patients with diabetes ALWAYS have a harder time fighting gum disease. Which is why you must be very diligent with your home care if you are a diabetic. So, what do we do if the treatment isn’t completely successful? Sometimes we have to do laser gum therapy on the areas that aren’t responding well. Sometimes we have to tweak your home care regiment. Sometimes a prescription mouthwash or an antibiotic is needed. We tailor each treatment to the individual patient to make sure your treatment is successful!
So, is the in office treatment the end of it? Am I done now? Unfortunately, no. Remember, we are fighting the effects of bacteria that live in your mouth. So, we need to keep the teeth as clean as possible with good oral hygiene. With Gingivitis, it is vitally important to keep up with your 6 month cleanings to make sure we keep the disease away. In the case of Periodontitis, we need to increase the frequency to cleanings every 3 months. Why? The bacteria that cause gum disease can re-infect the bottom of the gum pocket in only 12 weeks. That’s 3 months. If you go longer than 3 months, the bacteria can start causing bone loss again, and we are playing “catch up”.
Remember, dental technology has come a long way, especially here at Dayspring Laser Dentistry. We use an advanced computerized anesthesia machine to eliminate the fear of the dreaded “shot”. We use ultrasonic scalers to help remove plaque, tartar and bacteria. And if you have advanced gum disease, or aren’t responding well to conventional treatment, the Waterlase dental laser provides an alternative to traditional gum surgery that is much more comfortable for most patients.
If you are looking for a dental home that utilizes advanced dental technology as well as friendly, old fashioned caring, Dayspring Laser Dentistry is the place for you.
Dayspring Laser Dentistry is dedicated to the care and comfort of their patients. Call Dayspring @ 856-875-8400.