Gum (Periodontal) Disease

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Gum disease (periodontal disease), a chronic inflammation and infection of the gums and surrounding tissue, is responsible for 70% of adult tooth loss and affects three out of four people at some point in their life.

Bacterial plaque - a sticky, colorless film that constantly forms on the teeth - is recognized as the primary cause of gum disease. If plaque isn't removed each day by brushing and flossing, it hardens into a rough, porous substance called calculus (also known as tartar). Toxins (poisons) produced and released by bacteria in plaque irritate the gums and bone supporting the tooth roots until the bone is destroyed. The tooth eventually will become loose and fall out or require extraction.

Genetics are a factor, as are lifestyle choices. If your parents lost teeth due to gum disease, you may be at a higher risk for gum disease. A diet low in nutrients can diminish the body's ability to fight infection. Smokers and tobacco users have more irritation to gum tissues than non-tobacco users. Stress can also affect the ability to ward off disease and therefore the health of the periodontal tissues. Diseases that interfere with the body's immune system, such as leukemia and AIDS, may worsen the condition of the gums. In patients with uncontrolled diabetes, where the body is more prone to infection, gum disease is more severe and harder to control.

Symptoms of gum disease include red, swollen or tender gums, bleeding while brushing or flossing, gums that pull away from teeth, loose or separating teeth, pus between the gum and tooth, persistent bad breath, change in the way teeth fit together when the patient bites, and a change in the fit of dental appliances. Unfortunately, most symptoms do not appear until the disease has spread to a point where a tooth or teeth are severely compromised. Regular dental exams can detect problems before they become serious.

Once gum disease has been diagnosed and treated, establishing a regular oral hygiene regime is crucial for patients who want to sustain the results of therapy. Patients should visit the dentist at least every 3-4 months for a periodontal exam and possible follow-up treatment. In between visits, periodontal patients should brush as least twice a day and after every meal when possible, floss daily, and brush their tongue.

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If you have any questions about your gum health, Dr. Mahlin would be happy to discuss them with you.


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