by Hyo Lim
Gum disease—one of the most common oral diseases in the world—is caused by the infection of the gum tissues by bacteria and other pathogens. Even in this country, with the ready access to dental care and oral hygiene products, gum disease affects a majority of the population. The reason for this situation is that in the beginning stages there may be no noticeable symptoms. However, periodontal disease—the medical term for gum disease—left unchecked and untreated, can lead to pain, impaired oral function and possible problems in other parts of the body. A brief discussion of this common disease and the current treatment options may help reduce the fairly high risk.
There are different stages of periodontal disease. In the early stages, the condition may not produce any discomfort. However, there will be inflammation of the gums as the immune system battles the bacteria that has invaded the gum pockets. There may be bleeding while flossing and brushing. At this stage, the term gingivitis is used to identify the condition. The good news is that, at this point, the damage to the gums is totally reversible. With improved oral hygiene and regular visits to the dentist, gingivitis can be eliminated in as quickly as a few months.
Unfortunately, many people who have gum disease have the more severe condition in which the bone supporting the teeth is damaged. At this stage, the disease is referred to as periodontal disease. With this condition there will be significant increase in the depth of the gum pockets as the bone surrounding the roots of the teeth begin to erode away due to the presence of bacteria and the body’s own inflammatory process that attempts to deal with the infection. If this situation goes untreated, there may be increased bleeding, loosening of teeth and foul odor. Eventually, if bone loss is extensive enough, the teeth may literally fall out. Moreover, as periodontal disease becomes more entrenched, there is the real likelihood that the bacteria from the gum pockets can enter the blood stream and thereby spread inflammation and infection to other parts of the body.
But there’s good news. With current treatments like scaling—removing and cleaning bacteria and debris off the roots of teeth—and antibiotics, most cases of periodontal disease can be treated. Alternative techniques like oil pulling have also been helpful for some patients. Laser treatments have even regenerated lost bone support in some cases. As with any disease, prevention is the best approach. The next best option is to address the situation as early as possible to minimize the damage and also reduce the level of intervention needed to treat the disease.
Dr. Hyo Lim, DMD, practices at Dental Wellness Centre, in King of Prussia. Connect with him at 610-265-4485 or DentalWellnessCentre.com. December 2014.