The Health Perils of Gum Disease
How many people have gum disease?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates 1 in 7 adults between the ages 35 and 44 have some form of gum disease, from gingivitis to severe periodontitis. By age 65, 1 in 4 adults have gum disease. A report by the American Academy of Periodontology estimates 20% to 30% of adults have gum disease serious enough to put them at risk of losing teeth.
Gum disease more often affects men than women. One theory is that women in general take better care of their teeth. Smoking is a huge risk factor for gum disease. Up to 90% of people with severe periodontitis smoke. Further, when gum surgery becomes necessary, cigarette smoke slows down the healing process.
What are the signs and symptoms of gum disease?
“People associate disease with pain,” says Quinones, “but early gingivitis is usually not painful.” She recommends keeping an eye out for signs of a gum problem before things get serious. Here are symptoms to watch out for.
- Swollen or red gums
- Gums that are tender or bleed easily
- Chronic bad breath
- Areas of gum that appear to be pulling back from the teeth
- Pain when chewing
- Sensitive teeth
- Teeth that are loose
How do you treat gum disease?
The stage of gum disease will determine how it is treated. In all cases, however, the goal will be to bring any infection under control and prevent further damage.
Scaling and root planning. For less severe cases of periodontitis, the dentist will remove infection-causing plaque with a method called scaling and root planing. It is essentially a deep cleaning method that removes bacteria from around the gum line and on the tooth root.
Medications. Sometimes antibiotics or antimicrobial medications can reduce the size of gum pockets. These come in the form of mouthrinse, gel, pills, or tiny round particles that the dentist places directly in the pocket.
Surgery. If deep cleaning and medication do not return infected gums to a state of health, surgery is the next step. There are two types of surgery. Flap surgery lifts away gum tissue so the dentist can clean underneath it; then the tissue is sutured back in place. Gum or bone graft surgery grafts tissue or bone from another part of your mouth onto the damaged part of your gum or jaw.
How can you prevent gum disease?
“You can save yourself a whole lot of problems: pain, money, aggravation, by just doing simple preventive things,” says Cram. Caring for your gums involves:
- Brushing your teeth twice a day
- Flossing once a day
- Seeing your dentist for regular check-ups and cleanings
Even if you brush and floss without fail, a professional cleaning can remove tartar that your toothbrush cannot. While two cleanings a year works for some people, your dentist or hygienist may suggest a more frequent schedule if your gums and teeth show signs of damage.