What’s all the fuss about gum disease? And why the lectures by your dental hygienist? For very good reason, actually. Periodontal disease is a progressive disease – one that does not stabilize or show signs of healing. It only gets worse. Even when it doesn’t hurt, untreated gum disease will eventually take its toll – and the cost is the loss of teeth.
The course of gum disease proceeds in spurts of activity over time. Gingivitis is the beginning stages of gum disease, and in these cases, the gums are inflamed or swollen. They look and feel a little puffy just next to the tooth, and can be a darker pink in that area, or have a reddish tint. A crevice or pocket between the tooth and gum has deepened to about 4mm, and this is a trap for tartar, which carries bacteria. This 4mm pocket shows early detachment of the support structures. That means, the bone around the tooth is still in good shape. Often times, these 4mm pockets are symptom free – the gums may not be sore to the touch, but the disease is still there. Often there will be bleeding when brushing or flossing, and possibly minor pain when flossing. Patients with this condition may require a more thorough cleaning out of any of these pocketed areas. A more frequent schedule to see your hygienist may be recommended so that we can attempt to help the gum heal back to the tooth and reduce the pocket size and thus minimize future damage. Often a hygiene cleaning will be recommended every 4 months instead of the standard twice per year that healthy teeth require.
As pockets deepen from 4mm to 5mm or even 6mm, you’re on the way to periodontitis. Gum inflammation extends into the bone that is supporting the tooth, and the bone begins to erode due to the bacteria present in that deeper pocket. Usually, at this point, the gums are inflamed and puffy, but also pretty red and sore. Left untreated, these pockets will spread infection and the teeth lose stability because the bone is affected by the bacteria.
The disease progresses further still and the pockets can become 7mm and deeper, with more and more infection in the bone. Teeth will begin to feel loose or wiggly. At this point, surgery is the only step that can possibly save the tooth that is loose.
There is a bright side. Every day, we are finding new ways to approach periodontal therapy. Since we can treat every stage of the disease, our practice has helped many, many patients save their teeth and bring oral health issues back to health and vitality.