Taking care of your teeth is only one part of optimizing your dental health. Remembering to brush and floss daily can also keep your gums in great condition. The same goes for choosing healthy foods and visiting your dentist for regular cleanings.
Without proper care and attention, your gums can become infected. If left untreated, this condition can lead to a serious gum condition called periodontitis.
Today, we’re sharing the ultimate guide to understanding, preventing, and treating periodontitis. These insights can empower you to make smart choices and stick to good habits that can help your gums feel and look their best.
What is periodontitis?
Periodontitis is an advanced infection of your gums. It develops when bacteria remain on your teeth and gums for a prolonged period of time.
As it progresses, periodontitis can begin to damage the soft tissue of your gums. In time, this can cause the bone that supports your teeth to become damaged and deteriorate. If this happens, it can lead to tooth loosening or tooth loss.
Symptoms of Periodontitis
How do you know if you have periodontitis? There are a few telltale signs, and they cover both the appearance of your gums, as well as the way they feel.
First, it’s important to know what healthy gums look like! When they’re in great condition, your gums will be pale pink and firm, fitting securely around your teeth. They’ll be easy to floss around and won’t cause you any pain.
If your gums have been affected by periodontitis, they’ll exhibit different traits. A few of the most common symptoms to look out for include:
- Puffy or swollen gums.
- Discolored gums (bright red, dark red, purplish).
- Gums that bleed easily.
- A pink tinge to your toothbrush after brushing.
- Spitting out blood when you brush or floss.
- Gums that feel tender when you touch them.
- Gums that recede from your teeth.
- Pus developing between your teeth and gums.
While the above concerns might seem fairly obvious, there are other signs of periodontitis that aren’t quite as easy to pinpoint. If you experience any of the following, a serious gum infection could be to blame:
- Bad breath.
- Loose teeth.
- Teeth falling out.
- Pain when you chew.
- Spacing developing between your teeth.
- Changes to your bite.
Of course, these conditions could also be attributed to other dental health issues. For instance, bad breath could be a sign of dry mouth or a side effect of certain medications. Your dentist will be able to pinpoint the exact issue and recommend the proper treatment.
Things to Know
The most important thing to know about periodontitis is that it’s easy to avoid. This condition develops when a sticky film called plaque is left on your teeth, so remember to brush and floss to keep that bacteria away!
This daily habit is especially important because many people miss the early stages and signs of gum disease. At first, you might not even realize your gums are negatively affected. By the time you do notice the symptoms, it may have already progressed.
Taking care of your gums doesn’t just keep them looking great. It also supports your entire mouth! Your gums work as an important seal, keeping the roots and supporting structures of your teeth in place. They also keep out bacteria and decay, so you need them to function properly.
Risk Factors for Periodontitis
Could you be at risk of developing periodontitis? There are certain factors that could increase your likelihood of this condition, including:
- Smoking or using tobacco.
- Taking certain medications (e.g. steroids, cancer therapy drugs, anti-epilepsy drugs).
- Ill-fitting bridges.
- Older dental fillings.
- Crooked teeth.
Understanding these risk factors can help you stay on top of your dental health. Make sure your dentist knows about them, so you can take extra precautions to keep your teeth and gums as healthy as possible.
How to Prevent Periodontitis
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), around 42% of U.S. adults aged 30 years or older have some form of periodontitis. Still, while it might be common, this condition is largely preventable. The steps to follow to keep periodontitis at bay include:
- Brushing at least twice a day.
- Flossing every day.
- Attending regular dental visits.
When you take the time to complete these three steps, you have a much greater chance of avoiding periodontitis altogether. If your gums do become infected, your dentist will be able to identify and treat the condition more quickly and easily if your preventative care visits are on schedule.
Understanding the Stages of Periodontitis
Your gums won’t go from perfectly healthy to affected by periodontitis overnight. Rather, this is a condition that develops gradually as underlying symptoms aren’t addressed. Let’s take a look at the different stages that can occur.
Stage 1: Plaque Forms
Any time you consume starches or sugars, these substances can interact with the bacteria that’s normally present in your mouth. This can cause plaque to form on your teeth.
As long as you brush twice a day and floss at least daily, you can prevent plaque from accumulating in your mouth. Keep in mind that it can reform quickly, so it’s important to make this a regular habit!
Stage 2: Plaque Becomes Tartar
What happens if you allow plaque to stay on your teeth? Without proper brushing and flossing, it can extend under your gum line, where it will harden into tartar, or calculus. This is a yellow or brown-colored deposit that strongly bonds to your tooth enamel.
Tartar is more difficult to remove than plaque, and is also filled with bacteria. Your dentist can treat tartar with a professional cleaning, but regular brushing and flossing aren’t enough to adequately take care of it.
Stage 3: Gingivitis Forms
If plaque and tartar continue to build up on your teeth and gums, they can lead to gingivitis. This is the most mild and treatable form of gum disease.
Gingivitis causes the soft tissue of your gums to become inflamed and irritated. However, it isn’t always easy to spot. As we mentioned, you may not even realize you have it! Though they tend to be mild, a few of the symptoms to watch for include:
- Swelling and inflammation.
- Bleeding gums.
- Receding gums.
- Bad breath or metallic taste.
- New spaces between teeth.
Gingivitis is reversible with professional treatment. It’s important to schedule your dental visit as early as possible to reverse these issues before they become more significant. Your dentist can check for signs of gingivitis at every visit by measuring the space between your teeth and gums.
Stage 4: Periodontitis Develops
If gingivitis is allowed to progress, it will become periodontitis.
This ongoing inflammation causes pockets to form between your teeth and gums. These pockets will fill up with bacteria, plaque, and tartar, and will only become deeper with time. This can directly compromise the tissues and bone structure that support your teeth and hold them in place.
Not only can periodontitis make it difficult to brush, floss, or chew, but the extended, chronic inflammation can also strain your immune system. It’s important to visit your dentist at the first sign of gum disease to prevent it from developing into this condition.
Treatment Options for Periodontitis
There are several different options that can be used to help treat and reverse periodontitis. The appropriate treatment for each case will depend on the patient, as well as the severity of the condition. Let’s review a few of the most common solutions.
Some milder forms of gum disease are treatable with non-surgical methods. These include:
- At-home periodontal trays.
- Scaling and root planing (deep-cleaning treatments).
Periodontal trays look and function similar to a mouth guard. These have a special sealing system that delivers medication below your gums. During your treatment, you’ll wear the tray for a few minutes every day to fight infection.
Scaling and root planing (SRP) procedures can also help remove the plaque and tartar attached to your teeth and gums. After an SRP procedure, your dentist may apply a topical antibiotic, such as Arestin, directly into your infected gum pockets. This medication can treat the bacteria and help reduce the depths of those pockets, making treatment more effective.
Sometimes, periodontal surgery or laser gum surgery is required to treat advanced gum disease. These techniques can restore and regenerate the normal form and function of the periodontal structures that support your teeth.
In certain cases, dental implants may be required if periodontitis has led to tooth loss.
Healthy Habits Prevent Periodontitis
When your teeth and gums are in great shape, your smile radiates and you feel your best. Thankfully, gum disease is easy to avoid if you follow a few simple steps.
Our office is here to help you prevent periodontitis before it even forms. With regular checkups and periodontal examinations, we can spot and treat early signs of gum disease. In the meantime, you can do your part by maintaining an excellent at-home oral hygiene routine!
Need to schedule a cleaning or other dental service? You can make an appointment today.