Gum disease is also known as periodontal disease, and is an infection of the gums surrounding your teeth. Gum disease is one of the top reasons for tooth loss in adults, and because it is virtually pain free, many patients do not know they have the disease. During each regular checkup, your dentist will check for signs of periodontal disease by measuring the space between your teeth and gums.
What Causes Gum Disease?
Gum disease is caused by a buildup of plaque (a sticky form of bacteria that forms on the teeth). If the plaque is not removed (by flossing, brushing, and regular dental checkups), it will continue to build up and create toxins that can damage the gums. Periodontal disease forms just below the gum line and creates small pockets that separate the gums from the teeth. Periodontal disease has two stages: gingivitis and periodontitis.
- Gingivitis — This is the early stage of gum disease, when the gums become red and swollen, and bleed easily. At this stage, the disease is treatable and can usually be eliminated by daily brushing and flossing.
- Periodontitis — If left untreated, gingivitis will advance into periodontitis, and the gums and bone that support the teeth will become seriously and irreversibly damaged. Gums infected with periodontitis can cause teeth to become loose, fall out, or be removed by a dentist.
Certain factors can increase a patient's risk of developing periodontal disease, including:
- Smoking or using chewing tobacco
- Certain types of medication such as steroids, anti-epilepsy drugs, cancer therapy drugs, calcium channel blockers, and oral contraceptives
- Bridges that no longer fit properly
- Crooked teeth
- Old fillings
While it is possible to have periodontal disease and not know it, some symptoms can include:
- Gums that bleed easily
- Red, swollen, tender gums
- Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
- Persistent bad breath or bad taste
- Pus between your teeth and gums
- Permanent teeth that are loose or separating
- Any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
- Any change in the fit of partial dentures
Treating Gum Disease
Treatments for gum disease can vary depending on the severity of each individual case. Typical treatments include:
- Non-surgical treatments such as at-home periodontal trays, and scaling and root planing (deep cleaning)
- Periodontal surgery and laser gum surgery
- Dental implants
Preventing Gum Disease
Regular dental checkups and periodontal examinations are important for maintaining your health and the health of your smile. You don't have to lose teeth to periodontal disease, and by practicing good oral hygiene at home, you can significantly reduce your chances of ever getting gum disease. Remember to brush regularly, clean between your teeth, eat a balanced diet, and schedule regular dental visits to help keep your smile healthy.
Oral Cancer Screening
Our office is not only dedicated to your smile, we're also dedicated to your overall wellness. We take a holistic approach to your dental care, which includes an oral cancer screening as a part of your regular exam. Like any kind of cancer, oral cancer can be life–threatening if not diagnosed and treated early. You are the most important factor in the early diagnosis of oral cancer through routine screenings recommended by our office.
We have the skills and tools to ensure that early signs and symptoms of oral cancer and pre-cancerous conditions are identified. While these symptoms may be caused by other, less serious problems, it is very important to visit our office to rule out the possibility of oral cancer. The most common symptoms of oral cancer include:
- Red or white spots or sores anywhere in the oral cavity
- A sore that bleeds easily or does not heal
- A lump, thickening, or rough spot
- Pain, tenderness, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving the jaw or tongue
Our team is trained in a simple, quick screening which involves an examination of your oral cavity as a whole and not just your teeth to detect cancerous and pre-cancerous conditions. Besides a visual examination of your mouth, we will also feel the tissue of your mouth and throat to detect any abnormalities. If we find an area of concern, we may perform a simple test, such as a brush test, which collects cells from a suspicious lesion in the mouth to be sent to a laboratory for analysis. If this test comes back atypical or positive, we may recommend a biopsy.
Aside from receiving an oral cancer screening during your checkup at our office, there are many things you can do to help prevent oral cancer.
- The best way to prevent oral cancer is to avoid all tobacco products and only drink alcohol in moderation.
- Maintain a healthy, balanced diet.
- Limit your exposure to the sun and always wear UV-A/B-blocking sun protective lotions on your skin as well as your lips.
- During your next dental appointment, ask your dentist to perform an oral exam. Early detection of oral cancer can improve the chance of successful treatment.