Gum disease, known as periodontitis, is a condition in which the supporting structures of the teeth become chronically inflamed. This becomes clinically evident by redness, swelling and bleeding of the gums-during routine cleanings or during daily brushing. These clinical factors are the body’s response to the higher amounts of bacteria found on the teeth and under the gums. Overtime, the chronic inflammatory response to these bacteria can lead to damage of the supporting structures of the teeth.
So, what does all of that mean?
When we brush our teeth and visit the dentist for regular cleanings, we are able to remove plaque and calculus from our teeth. When we don’t, these things build-up and create periodontal pocketing-a gap between the gums and the roots of the teeth. The normal bacteria we have and need in our mouth suddenly have a place, below our gums and embedded in the plaque, where they can thrive and multiply in numbers-they can change from helpful to harmful.
Certain bacteria in the mouth are necessary to help digest our foods and fight off disease, but too many of the harmful bacteria allowed to multiply without limits causes the release of harmful by-products. Our body has to respond by activating its inflammatory response. The chronic inflammation, combined with the presence of these harmful bacteria, causes loss of bone and attachments to our teeth and they can become loose. Left untreated, otherwise healthy teeth can be lost to periodontal disease.
What else can cause gum disease?
Periodontitis can only occur with the presence of unremoved plaque and calculus. However, things such as smoking or diabetes can weaken the body’s defenses and thus the disease can progress faster.
So, what do we do?
The first line of defense is regular brushing and flossing. This takes care of the easy places to reach inside the mouth. Next, have regular dental cleaning visits to take care of those harder to reach areas. Advanced cases of periodontitis may require surgical interventions from a specialist to help reduce pocketing and making it easier to keep the teeth clean. And finally, make sure to keep the body healthy so that it can have an appropriate immune response.
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