Gum disease, like so many health conditions, is likely to usher in a wealth of questions. You may be worrying: Do I have gum disease? How would I know? Your dentist may have let you know you have signs of gum disease. This may have you thinking: What does it mean that I have gum disease? Are all gum diseases the same? In fact, although gum disease describes one continuum of a health condition, there are two types of gum disease. Let’s examine these two conditions a little bit more to understand what people mean when they talk about gum disease.
Mild, but not Benign—Gingivitis
Gingivitis is gum disease, technically known as periodontal disease. The gums, taken as a whole, are called periodontal tissue. The gingiva is the outer layer of the gums that closely covers the tooth surface. Gingivitis is an infection in this top layer of the gum tissue. It is also called mild periodontal disease because it has not invaded the deeper gum tissues. You should, in no way, assume that because it is called mild it is not dangerous. In fact, any infection in your gums is serious and should be treated as such.
In gingivitis, gums start to bleed and are irritated, which may be most noticeable during tooth brushing. It is usually caused by poor oral hygiene habits, although there are other risk factors. These include smoking, medication that causes chronic dry mouth, hormone changes, stress, poor nutrition, and genetic predisposition.
What to do for Gingivitis
Because gingivitis is less involved than advanced periodontal disease, it usually responds better to treatment. In addition to correcting any deficiency in oral care that caused the conditions to allow bacteria to overgrow and irritate the gums in the first place, it’s important to correct the bacterial overgrowth. Saltwater rinses have been shown to help heal gum tissue. Rinses that contain an antibiotic agent, like CTx4 Treatment Rinse also can help reduce plaque and bleeding gums. Gingivitis can respond to a carefully followed home care routine. It’s important to keep dental appointments to make sure that the treatment plan is working, and that the disease does not have a chance to progress to the other gum disease, periodontitis.
The second type of gum disease is periodontitis. This is a deep infection of the gum tissues. In periodontitis, the gums pull away from the teeth and form pockets that fill up with plaque and the toxins produced by the bacteria in the plaque. The chronic inflammation in the gums, like chronic inflammation anywhere in the body, can lead to negative overall health impact. Teeth, specifically, can feel loose and fall out. Bone loss is common. The most alarming thing about periodontitis is that the symptoms can be out of proportion to the damage done until the damage is severe. Adults are most likely to lose teeth from gum disease.
What to do for Periodontitis
There is no successful home treatment regimen for periodontitis. It will require antibiotic treatment and thorough cleaning with help from your dentist or a periodontist, a specialist in gum care. In severe cases, surgery to correct bone loss, gum loss, or close the pockets that have formed in the gums may be necessary to treat the disease. It may not be possible to undo the effects of advance periodontitis, but it’s important to treat the disease to keep it from doing any additional damage.
After professional treatment, maintaining the health of the gums requires great homecare habits. It is worth seeking coaching in proper brushing and flossing technique. Using an antibacterial mouthwash as part of your long term oral care routine is a good idea. Early studies into the matter have also shown that xylitol can interfere with the bacteria that cause bone loss in periodontal disease. Consequently, using a xylitol-containing tooth gel as part of a daily home care routine may have additional benefits for patients who have a history of periodontal disease.
Whether early-stage gingivitis or late-stage periodontitis, gum disease is a serious health condition that should be taken seriously and treated aggressively to prevent serious health issues and tooth loss. Understanding the level of disease can help while making treatment decisions. Regardless of the level of disease, meticulous home care will be vital for anyone who has suffered from any form of periodontal disease.