HEALTH MATTERS: Be on the lookout for gum disease

Gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults older than 30, yet many people are unaware of its signs and symptoms. If the disease is caught and treated in its early stages, the damage can be stopped or reversed.

Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is an infection of the tissues and bones that surround and support your teeth. Gingivitis and periodontitis are two types of gum disease. Gingivitis, an infection of the gums and soft tissues that surround the teeth, is the first sign of gum disease. Gingivitis is reversible, but if it remains untreated, it can progress to periodontitis. Periodontitis, which is more severe, spreads below the gums and damages the tissue and bone that support your teeth. If left untreated, periodontitis can lead to tooth loss.

Half of Americans 30 or older have periodontitis, the more advanced form of gum disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Our mouths are full of bacteria. This bacteria mixes with our saliva and the food we eat or drink to form plaque. Gum disease is primarily caused by the growth of plaque that builds up on your teeth and gums. Plaque produces harmful toxins and the body’s response to those toxins can destroy the gums and bone that surround your teeth. If plaque isn’t removed on a daily basis, it hardens on teeth to form tartar, which cannot be removed by a toothbrush or floss. Tartar also contributes to gum disease.

Gingivitis, the first stage of gum disease, usually isn’t painful, so you may not notice the signs and seek treatment to prevent the condition from worsening. Bleeding when you brush or floss is one of the first signs of gum disease. Other signs include bad breath, red and swollen gums, tartar buildup and tenderness when you are brushing, flossing or chewing.

As gum disease progresses, additional signs may appear, including increased inflammation, receding gums, teeth that seem loose or that shift position and changes in your bite. Teeth may become more sensitive and it may be painful for you to bite or chew food. Even if you don’t notice any signs, you may still have some degree of gum disease that can be spotted during a routine dental visit.

If you notice signs of gum disease, take action right away. Gum disease is frequently caused by neglecting to brush your teeth or improperly cleaning teeth and gums each day. Making it a habit to brush your teeth two to three times a day and floss at least once a day are crucial for daily plaque removal. If you smoke, work on quitting, since smoking is another major risk factor in gum disease.

Visit the dentist regularly for checkups and professional cleanings. If you have gum disease, you can take care of it by caring for your teeth and gums every day.


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