Dental Plaque and Periodontal Disease: The Oral Health Epidemic
There are two major causes of tooth loss. One we all understand, is basic dental decay. The other is a little more complicated, we’re talking about periodontal disease. Periodontal literally speaks of the tissue surrounding the teeth (peri: around dont:tooth.) In lay terms we would call periodontal disease simply Gum Disease. The contributing risk factors for periodontal disease are many, dental plaque is the culprit most often blamed for causing an individual’s susceptibility.
Dental plaque is a sort of microbial film that forms on teeth and sticks there. Plaque is most commonly removed by good brushing practices. There are some areas that we may not be able to clean effectively and these places allow plaque to mature and provide a home for ever more destructive microbes. As time goes on soft plaque becomes calculus, an almost clay-like substance that then gathers even more plaque to itself. Early gum disease, known as gingivitis is simply the body’s response to the plaque and it’s microbial load. It’s inflammation. This inflammation can worsen over time and travel deeper into tissue becoming periodontitis. Once at this stage the bone which supports the roots of the teeth shrinks by reabsorption and a periodontal pocket forms where the gums used to meet the teeth becoming a home for more bad bacteria.
Early stage gum disease is generally ignored because it has little in the way of symptoms that call attention to the problem. Some of the symptoms that might be cause for concern are: Bleeding gums, particularly after brushing or when chewing. Bad breath or bad taste in the mouth and itchy or aching gums. When periodontal disease is allowed to continue unchecked, the gums pull back, teeth get loose and eventually painful abscesses and tooth loss result. Oral infections such as periodontal disease can also contribute to other health issues for many patients. Pregnancy complications, heart disease, and stroke can all be related to periodontal disease.
For the most part, advanced gum disease is something we can prevent. There are people who should be especially careful to take care of their teeth and gums. Among those at increased risk for periodontal disease are women who have reached menopause, those who have other serious health problems such as diabetes, those with a family history of gum disease, and people with high stress lifestyles. When it comes to treatment time is of the essence. The sooner gun disease is caught and treated the better. The front line treatment for gum disease is treating the problem with scaling and planing, procedures which remove plaque and calculus as well as infected tissue below the gum line. Certain patients will receive late generation antibiotics in the gum crevice to assist in the treatment of infections that may be difficult to treat. In cases that have gone to the point where there is significant loss of the bone that supports the teeth the patient will need to see a periodontist,a specialist who performs surgeries such as gum flap surgery and bone grafts. Those procedures are generally performed in the health professional’s office with only numbing the area to be worked on. Patients then go home with medications for pain and antibiotics to keep infection away.
Advanced gum disease accounts for a sizable percentage of the cost of dental care. There is evidence that the prevention of periodontal disease can reduce health care costs by twenty-one percent as a whole. Taking good care of your teeth and gums as as well as keeping scheduled appointments with your dental professional for preventative maintenance are frequently all that is required to keep the average person from having an advanced gum infection. Patients being treated for gum disease must keep up on their scheduled follow up appointments with their oral care professionals to prevent a new incidence of periodontal disease and keep their oral health the best it can be.