For many patients, cavity prevention is the primary reason they visit the dentist regularly. While preventing tooth decay and cavities is certainly essential to promoting your oral health, keeping your gums healthy is vital, too. In fact, gum health and the health of your teeth are related. The health of your gums can also affect the overall health of your body, as periodontal disease can increase your risk of developing a whole host of systemic health problems.

What Is Periodontal Disease?

Also called gum disease, periodontal disease is a bacterial infection of the gums. Periodontal disease can develop when tartar (calculus) accumulates on the surface of the teeth. This pushes the gums away from the teeth, creating space between the teeth and the gums where harmful bacteria thrive.

Can Periodontal Disease Be Cured?

Periodontal disease occurs in stages. The first stage is called gingivitis. When periodontal disease is diagnosed in this early stage, it can still be treated and completely reversed to restore the patient’s gum tissues to optimal health.

In later stages, periodontal disease develops into periodontitis. During these stages of periodontal disease, permanent damage has usually been done to the gum tissues. This damage cannot always be reversed. However, periodontal disease in these stages can still be addressed, treated, and managed with the aim of mitigating infection in order to prevent further damage and harm from being done to a patient’s oral and overall health.

What Are the Early Signs of Periodontal Disease? (Symptoms of Gingivitis)

Since early treatment is key to being able to reverse the effects of periodontal disease and restore a patient’s oral health, early detection and diagnosis are essential. The signs and symptoms of gingivitis (early periodontal disease) include:

  • Persistent bad breath
  • Gums that bleed when you floss or brush your teeth
  • Puffy or swollen gums
  • Tender gum tissues
  • Red, dark, or dusky-looking gums
  • Receding gums
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Visual accumulation of tartar or plaque on the surfaces of your teeth

If you experience any of these symptoms, you should visit a dentist for a comprehensive dental examination and prophylaxis cleaning as soon as possible.

The Dangers of Untreated Periodontal Disease

Left untreated, gingivitis can progress into full periodontal disease or periodontitis. If at these stages, the infection is not addressed and adequately managed, periodontal disease can lead to several more severe symptoms and issues such as:

  • Degeneration of the periodontal ligaments
  • Loose teeth
  • Tooth loss
  • Degeneration of the jawbone
  • Increased risk of health problems (respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, dementia, certain types of cancer, and reproductive health problems)

How to Detect the Early Signs of Gum Disease

To detect the earliest signs of gingivitis or developing gum disease, it’s important to pay attention to your teeth at home while you brush and floss. If you notice any changes like newly sensitive areas, swollen gums, or bleeding, you should schedule a dental appointment as soon as you can to speak with a dentist about the issues and receive proper treatment to address your concerns.

The most common way that the early signs of gingivitis and gum disease are detected is with a professional dental examination. An examination and evaluation of your gums are included in every routine oral hygiene and examination appointment.

During this examination, our dentist and one of our dental hygienists work together to measure the depth of the pockets that exist between your gums and teeth to determine whether the gums have pulled away or receded. (If the pockets are unusually deep, it is likely the patient has gum disease.) We also look for signs of irritation and inflammation caused by elevated bacteria levels in the mouth such as red or swollen gums or gums that bleed easily during your cleaning and exam.

How to Prevent Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease

Gingivitis and periodontal disease can be prevented by practicing good oral hygiene habits at home. You should brush your teeth for two minutes at least twice a day. You should also floss at least once (twice is better) a day. If you are at an elevated risk for developing periodontal disease, then you might also consider using a water flosser for better cleaning between the teeth and below the gum line in addition to adding an alcohol-free antibacterial mouth rinse to your daily routine.

In addition to at-home oral hygiene, you should also visit the dentist regularly for professional teeth cleanings and examinations.

How Often Should You Visit the Dentist?

To help prevent gum disease from developing in addition to ensuring the early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of gingivitis and gum disease, we recommend that patients visit our office for a cleaning and examination every six months.

Patients who have already been diagnosed with gingivitis, periodontal disease, or periodontitis typically need to visit the dentist more frequently for deep cleanings and dental examinations to ensure periodontal disease is adequately managed.

Gingivitis Treatment and Periodontal Disease Management

The treatments for gingivitis, periodontal disease, and periodontitis vary depending on the patient and the severity of the infection. For some patients, an improved oral hygiene routine is enough to adequately address the problem and restore their oral health. Other patients might require additional treatments such as scaling and root planing, antibiotics, surgery, and/or restorative treatments.

To learn more about the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of gum disease or to request an appointment with Dr. Jared Harding, we welcome you to contact Dentistry of West Bend today.