Gum Problems? You’re Not Alone

If your gums bleed when you floss or brush, or are red or swollen, or if you have bad breath, you’re not alone.

Nearly 50% of US adults 30 or older have some form of gum disease. Gum disease can be mild or severe, and can cause more than just discomfort. It has been linked to other serious conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. Recently, research has shown a connection between gum disease in pregnant women and early births.  It’s clear that it’s an important issue, so we want to go over a bit about what it is, why it happens, and what to do about it.

So why do we get gum disease and what can we do about it?

Gum disease forms when plaque builds up on gums and teeth causing tartar. If not removed by brushing and flossing, this tartar can inflame your gums which is called gingivitis. If left untreated, it can form periodontitis where the tartar gets between the teeth and gums, causing baceteria-filled pockets to form. Over time, this condition breaks down bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place.

Gum disease can develop for a variety of reasons, but the main ones include:

  • Age (70% of adults over 65 have gum disease)
  • Smoking (this is bad for your health in many ways)
  • Genetics (even those of us with the best oral hygiene habits can be susceptible)
  • Stress (this lowers your body’s ability to fight the bacteria causing the problem)
  • Certain Medications (certain oral contraceptives, heart meds, and anti-depressants are linked to gum issues)
  • Clenching or Grinding (this can wear down your teeth and supporting tissue)
  • Poor nutrition (not getting certain nutrients can put you at risk for gum problems)
  • Being pregnant (hormone increases and other factors make gum disease more prevalent)

The good news is that there are many ways to treat gum disease.

General dentists and hygienists are both trained to handle mild to severe gum disease. In early stages of gingivitis, your hygienist might recommend more frequent flossing and brushing to reverse the disease. If it is a bit more severe, your dentist will recommend Soft Tissue Management, known as STM, which may involve the removal of heavy tartar buildup from your teeth, followed by a “deep cleaning,” or scaling and root planing which is just cleaning between your gums and teeth where the toothbrush can’t reach.

In cases where the gum disease is particularly advanced, a periodontist may be the best option. A periodontist is a gum specialist, trained an additional 3 years after dental school in all issues related to gum tissue. Periodontists are able to perform more involved scaling and root planing procedures, as well as handle any effects of periodontitis, such as gum recession or bone loss.

Prevention is Key

Preventing or reversing early stage-gum disease can be as easy as flossing and brushing more frequently (2x daily is recommended), incorporating mouthwash into your routine, and visiting your dentist and hygienist at least every six months.

If you think you may have gum disease already, schedule an appointment with your dentist today. You’ll be surprised how easy and painless the treatment to get your health back on track is!