What is periodontitis (gum disease)?
Periodontitis (gum disease) is a progressive condition that gradually invades your gums. Because it is typically painless in its early stages (gingivitis), it can easily evolve to an advanced stage before you become aware of any problems.
Plaque collects on your teeth and along the gum line, then hardens into tartar or calculus, a rough, porous deposit. Pockets form between teeth and irritated gums, and bacteria accumulate here, leading to other health issues such as cardiovascular disease. Only your dentist will be able to remove plaque once it has hardened.
In its advanced stages, periodontitis can cause loss of bone structure and deterioration of gums - eventually even tooth loss. In fact, gum disease is one of the most common causes of tooth loss in adults.
That’s why removing plaque with a rigorous daily hygiene routine of brushing and flossing as well as attending regular dental hygiene appointments are key for prevention – and for maintaining your oral health.
How can I prevent periodontitis?
There are also some less obvious tips that may help you avoid gum disease or reduce your risk of getting it. You may want to:
Take inventory of your medications. Certain medications can contribute to and aggravate gum disease, including antidepressants, heart medicines and oral contraceptives.
Increase your consumption of vitamins A and C, which are part of a healthy diet that can help prevent periodontitis. Conversely, cut sugary and starchy foods, which allow plaque to build.
Have dental issues treated quickly. Correct dental or oral health problems like teeth grinding, and misaligned or crowded teeth. It can be more difficult to clean teeth that are not properly spaced, allowing plaque to grow and thrive.
Gently massage your gums. Along with brushing and flossing regularly (at least twice a day for two minutes each time for brushing, and once daily for thorough flossing), show your gums some love by gently massaging them, which increases blood flow to the tissue.
Use fluoride toothpaste. This key ingredient removes plaque bacteria buildup along the gum line without irritating the gums.
Quit smoking. Not only is smoking strongly linked to the onset of gum disease, but it also makes it more difficult for your gums to heal once they've been damaged, as smoking weakens the immune system.
Know your risks. Whether genetics, diet, age, smoking or other factors make you more susceptible to periodontitis, knowledge is power when it comes to reducing your risk and staying healthy.
Bonus: Ask your dentist about periodontal disease treatment. The sooner your dentist detects periodontitis (if you do develop it), the better. This is because gum disease is easier to treat in its early stages than when it has progressed to the point where you begin to lose teeth or jaw bone tissue. There are surgical and non-surgical treatment options depending on how far the disease has progressed and how severe it is.
Regular oral hygiene - and reducing your personal risk factors - will go a long way in the fight to prevent gum disease. Our gums are as important as our teeth when it comes to our oral health, so it’s important not to neglect them.