What is Gum Disease?
From a simple case of bleeding gums to painful gum recession, gum disease is a problem that you need to deal with as soon as possible.
There are a few very common signs of periodontal disease to look for in your daily routine. These signs of gum disease may be signals that your gum health isn’t where it needs to be.
Red, swollen gums, receding gums, bleeding on brushing or flossing, visible pus, teeth feel loose and moveable, a change in your bite, heightened sensitivity to hot or cold foods, pain when chewing, a bad taste in your mouth, and persistent bad breath, are all symptoms of gum disease.
Always go to your routine dental visits for check-ups—gum disease diagnosis is one reason you should stick to these appointments.
When you show up for a dental appointment, you may not realize your dentist and hygienist are looking for gum disease symptoms. Here are some of what happens at your dental cleanings that can help recognize periodontitis.
You may be thinking, “Did I come to the doctor’s office, or the dentist’s?” This is a common notion many people have when a dentist asks about certain diseases that run in their family, or if they’ve recently been diagnosed with any systemic conditions.
One reason for this is that any medication you may have been prescribed by your physician could cause severe consequences for your oral health.
For example, medications that have the side effect of causing a dry mouth, or “xerostomia,” can lead to tooth decay.
The saliva in our mouths helps us wash away food and other debris to rid of plaque. Plaque naturally forms a biofilm on the surface of our teeth after we eat or drink anything with carbohydrates or sugars.
Over time, if plaque is not removed regularly by brushing and flossing, it can lead to tartar buildup. Tartar is also called “calculus,” and it forms a yellow, brown deposit after plaque hardens. Unlike plaque, you cannot safely remove tartar on your own. This can only be done professionally by a dentist or dental hygienist.
Part of your dental exam and teeth cleaning is called “perio probing.” Dentists use an instrument called a periodontal probe with markings in millimeters used to measure the pocket depths around each and every tooth.
With firm and gentle pressure, the perio probe is inserted into your gingival sulcus, which is the space between your tooth and the gum surrounding it. Healthy measurements are between 1-3mm of pocket depth.
Generally, anything deeper than that indicates gum inflammation that is making the pocket deeper. The deeper the pocket, the looser the gums surrounding your tooth, and the higher the degree of inflammation.
Another sign that your dentist or dental hygienist will look for when measuring pocket depth is bleeding upon probing. We may be poking at you, but a periodontal probe is blunted at the end, so it shouldn’t cause any bleeding in a healthy mouth. Bleeding upon probing is not considered normal and is one of the significant signs of gum inflammation.
It is really important that you don’t miss your regular check-ups and cleanings, or reschedule as soon as you can if something pops up. That way, anything out of the ordinary will be caught on early and promptly treated.
The purpose of taking an x-ray (radiograph) is to help your dentist examine everything in your mouth that is not visible to the naked eye.
The most commonly taken x-rays to evaluate gum disease are “bitewings.” There are four bitewings that are taken, one for each quadrant. Your dentist will be able to see everything from the top of your tooth to its roots, as well as the height of the bone around it.
The periodontal ligament, or PDL, serves as the supporting structure between the tooth and the bone. Bacteria can build up in deep periodontal pockets and cause destruction to the PDL, leading to bone loss and eventual tooth loss.
Taking bitewing x-rays will help your dentist assess if there are any changes to your jawbone as a result of gum disease.
Radiographs are not “one size fits all.” Your dentist will determine your oral profile risk and the frequency of x-rays needed. It may be as recent as every 6 months or only every couple of years.
Gum disease happens for a number of reasons, and depending on the cause, it can progress more or less rapidly. The four types of gum disease can help your dentist determine the best course of treatment and help you with expectations for recovery.
Chronic: Most common of the four types, chronic periodontitis is the gradual progression of inflammation in and around the gums. This typically happens slowly but can worsen rapidly at different points of the condition.
Aggressive: Typically seen in families, aggressive periodontitis often happens in healthy people and progresses faster than chronic periodontitis. There’s a likely genetic component to this type of gum disease.
Related to systemic disease: Certain diseases can manifest as gum disease. Periodontitis as a manifestation of systemic disease occurs most often in children with issues like diabetes, respiratory disease, or cardiovascular disease.
Necrotizing: In necrotizing periodontal disease, lesions cause necrosis (tissue death) of gingival tissue, periodontal ligament, and alveolar bone. People with these kinds of lesions are typically those with compromised immune systems, like patients with HIV, malnutrition, or other immune-compromising conditions.