Gum disease impacts a large percentage of adults in some way, shape, or form.
Although it typically starts out as mild gingivitis (inflammation of the gums caused by plaque exposure,) untreated gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss. It occurs when plaque-induced bacterial infections extend under the gums into the “pocket” created where the gingiva attach to the tooth. The more infected an area becomes, the more gum tissues and bone pull away from the teeth, causing symptoms such as:
- Bleeding gums
- Sensitive or tender gums
- Bad breath
- Heavy tartar buildup
- Gums that appear red, blue, or swollen
- Tooth mobility
Treating periodontitis should always start at home, with good oral hygiene and preventive care. Catching symptoms early is key.
Practice Purposeful Brushing
Most people think of brushing as primarily focusing on their teeth. In reality, most plaque starts developing right along the gumlines. As such, cleaning these areas should be a priority. Angle the bristles toward the gums slightly, making small strokes that focus on cleaning only one or two teeth at a time. Because biofilm under the gums is anaerobic (without oxygen,) stimulating the gums and exposing the area to oxygen through tooth brushing can help destroy them.
Flossing is a Must
It’s impossible to reverse gum infections without cleaning under the gums, where bacterial plaque collects. Flossing is not a preference, but rather a necessity.
When using string floss, it’s important that the strand is flush against the tooth in a “C” shape curve, and then wiped up and down the side of all teeth, being sure to extend 2-3 millimeters below the gums.
Because bleeding is common — especially for people who don’t floss often — many individuals feel compelled to stop flossing. If the tissues are just too sensitive, another alternative is to use a powered water flosser that uses a stream of pressurized water, which is capable of cleaning the areas instead. Even if tenderness and bleeding persists, flossing should be a daily affair.
Focus on Your Health
Underlying medical conditions can make some people more predisposed to oral infections. In fact, some health problems are closely linked with gum disease, making the two spiral into more aggressive states unless they are treated simultaneously.
Know When to See a Dentist
A dedicated oral hygiene routine will typically reverse gingivitis and mild gum disease symptoms within a few weeks. If bleeding persists past 10-14 days, it’s time to seek out a professional dental cleaning and examination to ensure that the disease has not developed into something that is causing gum detachment and bone loss.
During the appointment, the dentist or hygienist will complete appropriate types of assessments and therapies to establish a clean environment that promotes healing, including:
- A periodontal exam — Using a small probe, each tooth is measured to determine the level of bone loss and gum detachment that has occurred.
- Preventative cleaning (prophylaxis) — A preventive cleaning for individuals with healthy mouths or mild to moderate gingivitis.
- Deep cleaning (periodontal scaling and root planing) — When the root surfaces of the teeth are cleaned, to remove tartar deposits deep below the gums.
- Locally placed antibiotics — Small capsules containing antibiotic medication are strategically placed under the gums in areas of significant infection.
- Prescription mouthwash — Specially formulated rinses lower bacterial levels to aid in healing.
- Periodontal maintenance — After gum disease is treated, most individuals have to book a maintenance cleaning every 3-4 months to prevent disease relapse.
When to Ask for a Referral
If periodontal disease is severe, dentists send their patients to a periodontist for treatment.
Periodontists are gum disease specialists, with 2+ years of formal education in treating tissues around the roots of teeth. They are usually the only expert who can proactive treat advanced gum infections, through various surgical methods and with the help of specialized, advanced equipment that’s not available in a typical family dental office. Some types of therapy provided by a periodontist might include:
- Flap surgery
- Bone and gum grafting
- Deep cleanings for advanced gum disease
- Periodontal maintenance
Know Your Limits
Trying to treat gum disease at home is only successful if the infection is mild, like gingivitis. Once calcified tarter has built up on the teeth, there’s no way to remove it without help from a dental professional. Thanks to the Cigna discount dental plans at Cigna Dental Plans, members can save 15-50% on essential dental health treatments to avoid or address gum disease. Enroll today for a healthier smile!