laque accumulates on your teeth after you eat, and if you don't remove it by brushing and flossing, it will harden into tartar. Tartar is full of bacteria that irritates your gums and causes gum disease. Gum disease can be a serious problem, and if you think you have it, you need to see your dentist right away. Here's what you need to know about this common oral problem.
Are there different kinds of gum disease?
There are two main types of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis is the milder form; it causes red, swollen, bleeding gums, but the nearby tissues like your bones and ligaments are unaffected. Gingivitis can be reversed fairly easily as long as you seek treatment.
Periodontitis is the more serious type of gum disease, and it develops from untreated gingivitis. In this type, the gums pull away from the teeth and form small pockets between the teeth and the gums. These pockets become full of plaque and bacteria, and may even become infected. This process allows the ligaments and bones near your teeth to be destroyed as well. Periodontitis is very serious and can lead to tooth loss.
What factors increase your risk of gum disease?
Not brushing and flossing as often or as thoroughly as you should is a major risk factor for gum disease. If you don't keep your teeth clean, plaque and tartar will build up on your teeth, and irritate your gums.
Smoking cigarettes is another big risk factor. Smoking lowers your immune system which makes it harder to fight off gum disease, and also limits blood flow to your gums, which makes them heal more slowly. Smokers are four times more likely to have gum disease than nonsmokers.
Other factors can also increase your risk. Your genetics can play a role, so if one of your parents has struggled with gum disease, you may get it as well, even if your teeth are clean. The risk increases as you age since older people are more likely to get gum disease. Conditions that suppress your immune system like HIV or leukemia also make you more susceptible to gum disease.
Why is gum disease a serious problem?
Gum disease may seem like it's just an inconvenience, but ignoring your red, swollen gums would be a serious mistake. Untreated, gum disease can lead to serious problems like tooth loss and bone loss.
Periodontitis destroys the ligaments and bones that support your teeth, and over time, you will notice your teeth getting loose. Eventually, they will fall out, and when they do, you may have trouble replacing them. This is because you might not have enough jaw bone tissue left to support dental implants. Bone grafts may be required before you can replace the teeth that you lost to gum disease.
How common is it?
Gum disease is very common in the United States. Nearly half of all people over 30, about 64 million Americans, have some form of gum disease. Among certain segments of the population, it is even more common. For example, 64.2% of current smokers have gum disease, according to a Centers for Disease Control study. The same study found that 70.1% of people older than 65 had gum disease.
Gum disease is a serious problem, but fortunately, it's treatable. If your gums are red, swollen, or bleeding, or if you've noticed that your teeth are getting loose, you need to see your dentist right away. Gum disease can be reversed with the help of professional dental cleaning, and if you seek treatment early enough, you'll be able to keep your teeth.