If you’re over age 30 there’s a fifty percent chance you have periodontal (gum) disease—and you may not even know it. Without treatment this often “silent” bacterial infection could cause you to lose gum coverage, supporting bone volume or eventually your teeth.
That’s not to say there can’t be noticeable symptoms like swollen, red, bleeding or painful gums. But the surest way to know if you have gum disease, as well as how advanced it is, is to have us examine your gums with manual probing below the gum line.
Using a long metal device called a periodontal probe, we can detect if you’ve developed periodontal pockets. These are gaps created when the diseased gum’s attachment to teeth has weakened and begun to pull away. The increased void may become inflamed (swollen) and filled with infection.
During an exam we insert the probe, which has markings indicating depths in millimeters, into the naturally occurring space between tooth and gums called the sulcus. Normally, the sulcus extends only about 1-3 mm deep, so being able to probe deeper is a sign of a periodontal pocket. How deep we can probe can also tell us about the extent of the infection: if we can probe to 5 mm, you may have early to mild gum disease; 5-7 mm indicates moderate gum disease; and anything deeper is a sign of advanced disease.
Knowing periodontal pocket depth helps guide our treatment strategy. Our main goal is to remove bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that collects on teeth and is the main cause and continuing fuel for the infection. In mild to moderate cases this may only require the use of hand instruments called scalers to manually remove plaque from tooth surfaces.
If, however, our periodontal probing indicates deeper, advanced gum disease, we may need to include surgical procedures to access these infected areas through the gum tissue. By knowing the depth and extent of any periodontal pockets, we can determine whether or not to use these more invasive techniques.
Like many other health conditions, discovering gum disease early could help you avoid these more advanced procedures and limit the damage caused by the infection. Besides daily brushing and flossing to remove plaque and regular dental checkups, keep watch for signs of swollen or bleeding gums and contact us for an appointment as soon as possible. And be aware that if you smoke, your gums will not likely bleed or swell—that could make diagnosis more difficult.
If you would like more information on treating gum disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Understanding Periodontal Pockets.”
Many people learn they have periodontal (gum) disease after noticing gum swelling, soreness or bleeding. But what you can see or feel may be only the tip of the iceberg — the damage may extend much deeper.
Gum disease is caused mainly by dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles built up on teeth due to ineffective brushing and flossing. Infection of the visible gums is only the beginning — left untreated, it can advance well below the gum line and even infect supporting bone.
One critical concern in this regard is the areas where the roots of a tooth separate from each other, known as furcations. Here an infection known as a furcation invasion can cause the bone to weaken and dissolve.
This usually occurs in stages (or classes) we can detect through manual probing and/or with x-rays. In the earliest stage, Class I, we might only notice a slight pocket in the gums with no significant bone loss. In Class II, though, the pocket between the roots has become a horizontal opening of two or more millimeters, indicating definite bone loss with increased pocket depth getting “under” the crown of the tooth. Class III, the last and most serious stage, describes an opening we can probe under the crown all the way to the other side of the tooth; the bone loss now extends “through and through” the furcation.
The basic goal of gum disease treatment is to remove plaque and calculus (tartar) from all tooth and gum surfaces. But removing plaque below the gum line, especially “into” the furcations, can be challenging. We will need instruments called scalers to clean root surfaces, assisted sometimes by ultrasonic equipment to vibrate plaque loose. With furcations we may also need to employ surgery to aid gum or bone tissue regeneration or to make the area easier to access for future cleaning.
Of course, the best way to protect against furcation invasions is to prevent gum disease in the first place. Be sure to brush and floss daily and visit us for thorough dental cleanings and checkups at least every six months.
And don’t delay contacting us if you see any signs of teeth or gum problems. The sooner we can identify gum disease, the more likely we’ll be able to prevent it from doing serious damage to your gums, bone and teeth.
If you would like more information on treating gum disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “What are Furcations?”
Over a lifetime, teeth can endure temperatures ranging from freezing to near boiling, biting forces of as much as 150 pounds per square inch and a hostile environment teeming with bacteria. Yet they can still remain healthy for decades.
But while they’re rugged, they’re not indestructible — they can incur serious damage from tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, two of the most prevalent oral infections. If that happens, you could be faced with the choice of removing the tooth or trying to save it.
Because today’s restorations like dental implants are quite durable and amazingly life-like, it might seem the decision is a no-brainer — just rid your mouth of the troubled tooth and replace it. But from a long-term health perspective, it’s usually better for your gums, other teeth and mouth structures to try to save it.
How we do that depends on the disease and degree of damage. Tooth decay, for example, starts when high levels of acid soften the minerals in the outer enamel. This creates a hole, or cavity, that we typically treat first by filling with metal amalgam or, increasingly, composite resins color-matched to the tooth.
If decay has invaded the pulp (the innermost layer of the tooth), you’ll need a root canal treatment. This procedure removes infected material from the pulp and replaces the empty chamber and the root canals with a special filling to guard against another infection. We then cap the tooth with a life-like crown for added protection.
Gum disease, on the other hand, is caused by dental plaque (a thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces), and requires a different approach. Here, the strategy is to remove all of the plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) we can find with special hand instruments or ultrasonic equipment, and often over several sessions. If the infection extends deeper or has created deep pockets of disease between the teeth and gums, surgery or more advanced techniques may be necessary.
Though effective, some of these treatments can be costly and time-consuming; the tooth itself may be beyond repair. Your best move is to first undergo a complete dental examination. From there, we can give you your best options for dealing with a problem tooth.
If you would like more information on the best treatment approach for your teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
Your smile may look healthy, but something quite unhealthy may be going on behind it. Unbeknownst to you, periodontal (gum) disease could even now be damaging tissues and bone that could lead to tooth loss. Caused by plaque, a thin film of food remnant and bacteria built up on the teeth due to poor oral hygiene, gum disease can aggressively spread deep into gum tissues without you even realizing it.
If you pay close attention to your gums, however, it’s still possible to pick up signs of the disease, even during its early “silent” stage. As the infection progresses, the signs will become more frequent — and consequential.
Here are 4 signs of gum disease you should definitely keep on your radar.
Bleeding. Unless you’re doing it too hard, healthy gums won’t normally bleed when you’re brushing or flossing. If they do bleed with just light to moderate pressure, it’s a sign the tissues have been inflamed and weakened by the infection.
Inflammation and redness. If you notice your gums seem swollen or reddened, it could mean they’re inflamed. Inflammation is the body’s response for fighting infection — however, if the inflammation becomes chronic it can actually damage the tissue it’s trying to protect.
Abscesses. These are localized areas in the gums where the infection has become isolated. They’ll typically be more swollen than surrounding gum tissues and are often filled with pus. They can also be sensitive to the touch and painful. Any sore spot like this that lasts for more than a few days should be examined.
Loose or moving teeth. Teeth that can move in the socket or appear to have shifted their position are signs of an advanced stage of gum disease. It’s an indication the gum and bone tissue that hold teeth in place have been weakened and are losing their attachment. Without immediate treatment, it’s just a matter of time before the teeth are lost altogether.
If you notice any of these signs, you should see us as soon as possible for a complete exam. The sooner we’re able to diagnose gum disease and begin treatment, the less likely it will permanently harm your teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on treating gum disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “When to See a Periodontist.”
One of the health issues pregnant women should be concerned about is a higher risk of periodontal (gum) disease. But you don’t have to be pregnant to have an increased risk — you also may be more susceptible to dental disease if you’re taking certain birth control pills.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection caused by plaque, food debris that builds up on tooth and gum surfaces due to poor oral hygiene. If left untreated gum disease can eventually lead to the breakdown of connective gum tissue and cause tooth loss.
Pregnant women are at greater risk because of an increased level of female hormones (estrogen) in their blood stream. This causes a change in the blood vessels that supply the gums, making them more susceptible to the effects of bacteria. A number of birth control options also increase estrogen levels, causing much of the same effect. To heighten the effect, you may also have a predisposition toward gum disease by your genetics or a high stress level.
There are some things you can do, however, to help lower your risk if you’re taking birth control medication. First and foremost, practice a consistent, daily habit of brushing and flossing. If you’re unsure if your technique is effective, we can provide guidance and training to make sure you’re performing these tasks properly. You should also visit us at least twice a year for office cleanings and checkups: no matter how effective you are with brushing and flossing, plaque can still accumulate in hard to reach places and form hardened deposits known as calculus.
You should also be on the lookout for signs of disease like gum redness, swelling or bleeding. If you see any of these signs, contact us as soon as possible for a thorough examination. As with many other issues involving health, the sooner we begin treatment for gum disease the better your chances of stopping it before it does too much harm.
If you would like more information on the relationship between gum disease and pregnancy or birth control, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Pregnancy & Birth Control.”
Billions of bacteria live in each of our mouths, sharing a common environment with teeth and soft tissues. Most of the time, they coexist in symbiotic balance. But sometimes that balance becomes disrupted, leading to a destructive condition known as periodontal disease.
From the Latin peri (“around”) and the Greek odont (“tooth”), periodontal refers to the tissues that are around the teeth. When they become diseased, it’s a serious matter; and not just because of potential tooth loss — there is evidence that periodontal disease has links to cardiovascular disease and, for pregnant women, low birth weights in pre-term babies.
There are a number of factors that can increase your risk of developing periodontal disease, like smoking, poor nutrition, and your systemic health. The biggest factor, however, is increased bacterial plaque due to poor oral hygiene practices.
Periodontal disease is progressive. As unhealthy bacteria levels increase, the bacteria eventually cause bone loss, the gums separate from the teeth and create what is referred to as periodontal pockets. As the pockets deepen around the teeth, plaque and tartar become extremely difficult to remove, even if you resume a proper hygiene routine. At this stage, treating the disease will require a different approach. And if left untreated, the teeth will most likely continue to lose bone and eventually be lost.
Through a dental exam, we can determine the presence and extent of the disease and recommend a treatment strategy. Besides lifestyle changes and better hygiene habits, this strategy might also include treatment with antibiotics, a thorough mechanical cleaning to remove tartar and plaque, surgical techniques to remove infected tissue, or occlusal bite therapy.
Above all, prevention is the key. Through proper dental hygiene and regular dental exams and cleanings, stopping periodontal disease from beginning in the first place is your best defense.
If you would like more information on the treatment of periodontal disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Understanding Gum Disease.”
Did you know that roughly 75% of Americans suffer from some sort of gum disease? Gum disease (also known as periodontal disease) refers to the progressive loss of attachment between the fibers that connect the bone and gum tissues to the teeth, and the consequential loss of the tooth-supporting bone itself.
As you get older, your chances for developing gum disease increase significantly. Here are a few other factors that might put you at a higher risk for developing gum disease:
We often refer to gum disease as silent, because symptoms may not appear until the disease has advanced. For this reason, you should conduct a self-assessment to identify if you are at risk.
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you may be at risk for gum disease. You should make an appointment with our office so that we can conduct a thorough examination and prescribe treatment, if necessary.
If you would like more information about gum disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Assessing Risk for Gum Disease.”