What’s nearly invisible, painless at first, and puts about half of all adult Americans at risk for losing teeth? Hint: It’s not dental cavities.
It isn’t fair, but it’s there: gum disease. Just when you’ve gotten past the cavities and braces of youth, here comes that non-stop enemy, gum disease, lurking in your mouth. But that enemy can be spotted early, stopped and turned back – if you know the facts and make the right moves.
How does this enemy get into our mouths? It starts with plaque, the sticky, practically invisible substance made by bacteria from mucus and food particles. Proper and regular brushing and flossing can disrupt and help get rid of most of the plaque. But some plaque remains no matter how hard we try. Over time plaque hardens into tartar, and only a professional cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist can remove it.
When plaque and tartar form on the teeth near the gums, the bacteria can start affecting the gums. You may not notice the effects at first. Gingivitis starts as inflammation, the start of gum disease. As gingivitis progresses, the gums become red, swollen and may bleed easily.
Untreated gingivitis can advance to periodontitis, often called “periodontal disease.” At this stage your gums start pulling away from the teeth and opening gaps called “pockets.” Bacteria settle in the pockets to create infections. The toxins and the body’s responses can travel down to the bone and connective tissue holding the teeth. Without treatment, periodontitis can and likely will destroy the bones, tissues and gums – and teeth will get loose and need to be pulled.
So how can you detect gum disease early? Watch for these symptoms:
• Recurring bad breath
• Red, swollen, tender or bleeding gums
• Painful chewing
• Loose teeth
• Sensitive teeth
• Gums receding, or teeth appearing longer
If you notice any of these symptoms, what’s next? Visit your dentist for a periodontal exam.
The good news: Regular dental checkups and cleanings, along with good home hygiene and oral health awareness can prevent or stop gum disease from affecting your life and your smile!