Gum disease is something everyone should be concerned about. If you’re an American, you have a 47 percent chance of developing not just gingivitis but periodontitis (the severe gum disease variety) by the time you reach your thirties, according to a study by the CDC. Here are five steps to gum disease and how to thwart them.
1. Bacteria Invade Your Mouth
Bacteria enter your mouth every day. Beneficial bacteria may be present in some foods (such as yogurt), while other bacteria ride into your mouth with utensils, in the air you breathe, or even with a kiss.
Invasion by cavity-causing bacteria often occurs soon after birth – when a well-meaning caregiver shares spoons with a baby, for example. Since the bacteria has already invaded your mouth, the best way to keep bacteria from initiating gum disease is to keep them well under control with thorough but gentle brushing and regular flossing.
2. Bad Bacteria Crowd Out Beneficial Bacteria
The pathogenic bacteria in your mouth prefer a more acidic environment, and they also create a more acidic environment by digesting sugars and simple starches into acid. Since beneficial bacteria prefer a more alkaline environment, these acids tend to discourage them. The cavity-causing bacteria can then take over more easily.
You can thwart this stage of the process by limiting the instances when you put sugars and simple starches into your mouth and neutralizing your pH afterward. So for example, you could limit sugary and starchy foods to meals. Then use a baking soda mouthwash or chew xylitol-containing gum, both of which help turn the pH in your mouth towards the alkaline.
3. Plaque and Tartar Irritate Your Gums
When the pathogenic bacteria are well-fed, they don’t just damage your enamel. They also form plaque, which calcifies into a hard deposit known as tartar. The bacteria and the tartar and plaque then irritate your gums in addition to eroding away your tooth surfaces.
As you probably know, brushing and flossing are your first line of defense against plaque. But for any tartar build-up, you need to go to the dentist for your six-month cleanings. Skipping a cleaning could allow gum irritation to progress further.
4. Your Gums Swell Up in Protest
The plaque and tartar along your gumline provide a safe haven for bacteria to multiply, allowing them to colonize your gums in an infection known as gingivitis.
During this stage, your gums may show more irritation than usual and may bleed easily. This is because they’re trying to fight off the infection by bringing in more blood, which in turn makes them look redder and more swollen. Unfortunately, without professional treatment, your gums aren’t going to be able to simply fight off the infection on their own.
In some ways, this inflammation is actually counter-productive for your gums. That’s because irritated gums (whether they’re irritated from injury, bruxism, or gingivitis) start to recede over time. The way to thwart gum disease at this stage is to go to your dentist for professional deep cleaning, then step up your at-home hygiene as well.
5. Recession and Bacterial Overgrowth Form a Downward Spiral
If you don’t receive successful treatment for gingivitis, it will devolve into periodontitis. As gum pockets form and gums pull away from the teeth, the pathogenic bacteria will be able to invade those spaces as well, causing even more inflammation and infection that results in further gum recession and deeper gum pockets.
This process can spiral further as the bacteria cause more and more reactions in the gums, which are then more exposed to deeper infection. Eventually, the infection can reach the roots of your teeth and cause bone loss in the jaw and even tooth loss. Once you reach the full-blown periodontitis stage, more aggressive treatments will be required.
Your dentist may schedule you for repeated deep cleanings, dental implants to replace any lost teeth, and other treatments such as prescription mouthwash.
These five steps chronicle how pathogenic bacteria can attack your gums and teeth, eventually causing periodontitis. For help preventing, detecting, or treating gingivitis or periodontitis, call Family Dental Center today.