When you hear about or read about gum disease, several different terms are thrown around like plaque, gingivitis, and periodontal disease. Are these terms interchangeable? What do they all mean? More importantly, what do they mean for you?
Gum disease is a broad term that describes the damage done to teeth, gums and bone tissue by plaque, which is the film of bacteria and acidic bacterial waste that forms on the teeth. The bacteria in the mouth eat the remains of food left on your teeth and build up over time, which is why it’s so important to brush and floss regularly. Good oral hygiene prevents this bacterial build up, which can delay or even prevent gum disease.
Gingivitis is the first, mild stage of gum disease, in which the gums surrounding the teeth become swollen and tender due to the body’s reaction to the bacteria on the teeth. The gums will frequently bleed during brushing and flossing, but this is not a reason to stop brushing and flossing. Using a soft bristled brush and flossing gently but thoroughly will clean your teeth while protecting your swollen gums. When gingivitis occurs, it’s a sign that it’s probably been too long since you’ve seen your dentist for a checkup and routine cleaning.
Periodontal disease describes the more advanced and much more serious stage of gum disease. If gingivitis, or swelling of the gums, lasts for too long and plaque continues to affect the gums, the constant swelling will begin to degrade the bones underneath. These bones will slowly dissolve and the gums will recede, which has several detrimental effects. First, gaps will open between teeth and gums, which allows more plaque to build up, sometimes out of reach of normal brushing and flossing. This worsens gum disease. Second, as the bone continues to dissolve, the teeth they support will become loose and will eventually fall out or have to be removed. Loss of too many teeth will cause the bones that support the jaw and structure of the face to weaken, leading to sagging facial features.
Gum disease can be prevented and controlled with good oral hygiene habits and regular trips to the dentist for cleaning and checkups. Once gum disease starts, however, it’s very important to consult with your dentist so he or she can examine the extent of the disease and discuss possible treatments.
Dr. Silberg at the Silberg Center for Dental Excellence is an expert in the treatment of gum disease. If you are in the Pittsburg area, contact us or click here to request an appointment. Let him examine your teeth and help you treat or prevent gum disease before it’s too late.