Dentists recommend brushing and flossing daily, but many people don’t follow that advice. The dangers of not caring for your teeth can cause serious health problems. Bacteria can build up in the plaque on the teeth and cause disease.
The bacteria can cause inflammation of the gums and cause them to bleed when brushing. The condition is called gingivitis, and in the early stage, it is confined to the gums. The teeth are secure in their sockets and no other bone or tissue damage has been done.
Periodontitis is the condition that develops when gingivitis goes untreated. The inner layer of the gums pulls away from the teeth and forms pockets that collect bacteria and debris from food. Plaque also begins to build up below the gum line. Substances created not only by the bacteria, but also by the body’s own defense systems start to break down the bone and tissue holding the teeth in place. This causes the teeth to become loose as periodontitis progresses, and can cause tooth loss as the teeth are no longer held securely. Periodontitis is the leading cause of adult tooth loss.
While plaque buildup is the most common cause of periodontal disease, there are other factors that can contribute, including:
- Medication – some medicines, like Dilantin, can decrease the amount of saliva the mouth produces.
- Hormonal changes – pregnancy, menopause, puberty, and others can make the gums more sensitive and open the door to gingivitis.
- Illness – serious illnesses like cancer, diabetes, and HIV affect the body’s blood sugar and the immune system.
- Poor oral hygiene – Not brushing and flossing as recommended can allow plaque to build up causing gingivitis.
- Bad habits – smoking, for example, makes it harder for the body to fight off illnesses and to repair itself.
- Family history – genetics can play a large part in a patient’s susceptibility to certain conditions.
If a patient notices red and swollen gums that are tender and bleeding (especially during brushing), are receding, or are showing pockets next to the teeth, or loose teeth, they should go directly to the dentist for prompt treatment. The best treatment is prevention, so a regular schedule of brushing, flossing, and bi-annual dental checkups is key to stopping periodontal disease.