If you’ve been diagnosed with periodontal (gum) disease, you’re not alone. Millions of adults in the U.S. currently have some form of the disease, which can range from simple gum inflammation to more serious conditions in which there is major damage to the soft tissue and bone that support the teeth.
Periodontal disease is caused by bacteria in the mouth, along with mucus and other particles that form a sticky, colorless “plaque” on teeth. While regular brushing and flossing can help get rid of plaque, the plaque that is not removed can harden and form “tartar” (also known as “calculus”) that brushing cannot remove. Only professional cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist can remove tartar.
Who gets gum disease?
Both men and women develop gum disease, but it occurs more frequently in males. The most common cause of gum disease however is lack of proper oral hygiene. Other factors that may increase the likelihood of developing periodontal disease include smoking, diseases like diabetes, cancer and AIDS, the use of some medications, and genetic susceptibility.
The longer plaque and tartar stay on teeth, the more harmful they become. The bacteria cause inflammation of the gums that is called “gingivitis,” a condition in which the gums become red, swollen and can bleed easily. Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that can usually be reversed with daily brushing and flossing, and regular cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist. This form of gum disease does not include any loss of bone and tissue that hold teeth in place.
When gingivitis is not treated, it can advance to “periodontitis” (which means “inflammation around the bone”). In periodontitis, gums pull away from the teeth and form spaces (called “pockets”) that become infected. The body’s immune system fights the bacteria as the plaque spreads and grows below the gum line. Bacterial toxins and the body’s natural response to infection start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place.
If not treated, the bone, gums, and tissue that support the teeth are destroyed. The teeth may eventually become loose and have to be removed.
How do you know if you have gum disease?
Symptoms of gum disease include:
- Bad breath that won’t go away
- Red or swollen gums
- Tender or bleeding gums
- Painful chewing
- Loose teeth
- Sensitive teeth
- Receding gums or longer appearing teeth
Any of these symptoms may be a sign of a serious problem, and you should have them checked.
How is gum disease treated?
The number and types of surgical treatment will vary, depending on the extent of the gum disease. They may include:
Deep Cleaning (Scaling and Root Planing) – Dr. Farahmand removes the plaque through a deep-cleaning method called scaling and root planing. Scaling means scraping off the tartar from above and below the gum line. Root planing gets rid of rough spots on the tooth root where the germs gather, and helps remove bacteria that contribute to the disease. In some cases, the doctor may use a laser to remove plaque and tartar. This causes less bleeding, swelling, and discomfort compared to traditional deep cleaning methods.
ARESTIN® is an antibiotic treatment for periodontal disease that Dr. Farahmand may recommend as an add-on therapy to dental scaling and root planning procedures. Different than an antibiotic you take as a pill, ARESTIN is placed right where you need it: directly in the pockets below the gumline — the areas that have been infected.
Flap Surgery – This is a procedure used to remove tartar deposits in deep pockets or to reduce the periodontal pocket and make it easier to keep the area clean. This common surgery involves lifting back the gums and removing the tartar. The gums are then sutured back in place so that the tissue fits snugly around the tooth again. After surgery the gums will heal and fit more tightly around the tooth. This sometimes results in the teeth appearing longer.
Bone and Tissue Grafts - In addition to flap surgery, Dr. Farahmand may suggest procedures to help regenerate any bone or gum tissue lost to periodontitis. Bone grafting, in which natural or synthetic bone is placed in the area of bone loss, can help promote bone growth. Guided tissue regeneration is a technique that can be used with bone grafting. In this procedure, a small piece of mesh-like material is inserted between the bone and gum tissue. This keeps the gum tissue from growing into the area where the bone should be, allowing the bone and connective tissue to regrow. Growth proteins that can help your body naturally regrow bone may also be used. In cases where gum tissue has been lost, the doctor may suggest a soft tissue graft, in which synthetic material or tissue taken from another area of your mouth is used to cover exposed tooth roots.
Treatment results depend on a variety of factors, including how far the disease has progressed, how well the patient keeps up with oral care at home, and certain risk factors, such as smoking, which may lower the chances of success.
Medications – Medications may be used along with scaling and root planning, but they cannot always replace surgery as a treatment. Depending on how far the disease has progressed, the doctor may still suggest surgical treatment.