Advanced gum disease, called periodontitis, affects almost half of the population over the age of 30, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As common as the condition is, tooth loss is often the unfortunate outcome when left untreated. But today, with so many successful treatment options available for advanced periodontal disease, losing teeth doesn’t have to be your next step with an unhealthy gumline.
Gingivitis to Periodontitis
Gum disease is a sneaky, progressive disease, and here’s why: The first stage, called gingivitis, occurs when bacterial plaque is not thoroughly removed from your teeth. Red, swollen and bleeding gums are the telltale signs of this infection, but the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) assures that this condition is easily reversible with daily brushing and flossing – and a professional cleaning at the dentist’s office.
When left untreated, however, gingivitis can progress into a more serious condition called periodontitis. Toxins from this buildup of bacterial plaque not only affect your gum tissue, but also the bone and ligaments that support your teeth. As the infection causes disease to the bone and supporting tissues, your teeth may eventually become loose and need to be treated surgically or removed. But even advanced cases of periodontal disease don’t have to progress to this point.
Your first step in treating periodontitis is a conservative, nonsurgical treatment called scaling and root planing (SRP). A dentist or dental hygienist provides this treatment by scraping and removing the plaque and tartar off of your teeth and root surfaces by scaling, and then smoothing away any roughness on the roots to prevent bacteria from gathering again. SRP may take more than one visit and a local anesthetic can be used to prevent any discomfort. After this process, the gums will heal and reattach themselves to the healthy, clean surfaces of the teeth. Within a few weeks, your dentist will evaluate your healing and decide if further treatment is necessary.
If you need additional treatment, various periodontal surgeries that can help stop the progression of your periodontal disease:
Pocket Reduction Procedure
After scaling and root planing, if the gum tissue is not fitting snugly around the tooth and you can’t keep the deep pocket area clean, you may be a candidate for periodontal pocket reduction or flap surgery. By folding back the gum tissue, your dentist or periodontist can remove infectious bacteria and smooth areas of damaged bone, allowing the gum tissue to reattach to healthy bone.
Exposed roots due to gum recession can be covered with gum grafts, wherein gum tissue is taken from your palate or from another source and used to cover the roots of one or more teeth. Covering exposed roots helps reduce sensitivity and protects your roots from decay, while stopping further gum recession and bone loss.
Bone grafting is a surgical procedure that promotes the growth of bone in an area where bone has been destroyed by periodontal disease. During this type of treatment, your dentist or periodontist will eliminate bacteria and then place either natural or synthetic bone in the area of bone loss, along with tissue-stimulating proteins to help your body effectively regrow bone and tissue.
Anyone who has had treatment for advanced periodontal disease knows that meticulous homecare is the key to keeping periodontal disease from rearing its ugly head – again. Because personal oral care is a big part of any periodontal treatment plan, your dentist or dental hygienist will spend lots of time with you making sure you understand and implement proper brushing and flossing techniques at home. He or she may also recommend certain products like a prescription-strength antimicrobial mouthwash to help reduce bacteria in hard-to-reach areas of your mouth.
In addition to not smoking, which inhibits the healing process, your dentist will also recommend keeping a close eye on your periodontal health with more frequent checkups and cleaning appointments. When dealing with periodontal disease, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”