If most people who aren’t professionally involved think about dental care at all, then the chances are, perfectly understandably, that they assume it is a subject which revolves around teeth and the condition they are kept in. It’s easy to assume that the average trip for a check-up at a dental clinic begins and ends with the state of the enamel of the teeth – how white it is, how straight it is and whether it has been cracked, chipped or otherwise damaged at all. The truth, however, is that a dentists is concerned with the good health of all parts of a patients mouth, and in particular the gums in which the teeth themselves are anchored. Periodontal diseases are those which affect the gums and can range in severity from gingivitis, which causes the gums to become inflamed, red and sore, to periodontitis, in which the condition of the gums deteriorates until it reaches the point at which the teeth themselves are actually in danger of falling out. The severe damage that can be caused by periodontal diseases, as well as the degree to which they are misunderstood by most people, makes it vital that the average patient takes the time to become more firmly educated on the myths and facts surrounding the subject. If you’re worried about the condition of your gums, then the wisest step to take is to visit a periodontist in London or elsewhere, but a good beginning on the journey toward healthy gums consists of reading the following information.
The causes of periodontal disease
The human mouth is warm and wet and, as such, is the perfect environment in which bacteria can thrive. This bacteria, combined with food debris, mucus and saliva, combines to form ‘plaque’, the sticky, colourless film which coats the teeth. Brushing and flossing can remove plaque but, if it isn’t cleaned off properly, it becomes hard and forms ‘tartar’, a substance which can’t be removed via simple brushing, and will have to be tackled by an actual dentist. If plaque and tartar are left in place on the teeth, the bacteria they contain can cause the gums to become swollen and red and to bleed more easily, especially when brushing or eating harder foodstuffs. This is the onset of ‘gingivitis’, the milder type of gum disease which doesn’t actually attack the bone of the jaw or the tissues which hold the teeth in place, and which can be treated with the right amount, and type, of cleaning and flossing. If gingivitis isn’t treated, however, it can worsen to become periodontitis. This is what happens when the gums pull away from the teeth creating spaces or ‘pockets’ which become infected. The combination of the bacteria present in the plaque which gathers in these pockets, and the natural response of the immune system as the body tries to fend off the infection, leads to the bones and tissue supporting the teeth being attacked and broken down. If left untreated they may be destroyed altogether, thus resulting in the teeth falling out. Other Factors There are other factors, besides oral hygiene and regular check-ups, which can increase a patient’s risk of developing periodontal diseases. Some of these are:
Extensive research has shown that patients who smoke are much more likely to develop gum disease, and that the presence of a tobacco habit also serves to make any treatments offered less effective.
Girls or women who are undergoing hormonal changes – such as those associated with the onset of either puberty or the menopause – may be at more of a risk of developing periodontal diseases.
People with the condition diabetes have a lower threshold than most to developing infections, and this includes the infections which occur when periodontal diseases are present.
Other conditions and the treatments offered to fight them – such as AIDS or some forms of cancer, can mean that periodontal diseases are more likely to occur.
Any medicine which leaves the patient with a dry mouth through a lack of saliva can increase the risk of periodontal diseases. Saliva acts as ‘natures mouthwash’, helping to rinse away bacteria, acids, food debris and other foreign bodies which might attack the teeth and gums, so any reduction leading to a dry mouth can be a major risk factor.
Some people have the simple bad luck to be born with a genetic susceptibility to periodontal diseases.
Symptoms of Periodontal Diseases
The chief symptoms suggesting that you may be developing or have developed periodontal disease include:
- Persistent bad breath
- Red, inflamed gums
- Painful, bleeding gums
- Pain experienced when chewing food
- Teeth which are loose or sensitive
- Gums which have receded, creating the impression that the teeth are becoming ‘longer’
In order to maintain the best possible standards of health for their teeth and gums, it’s vital that patients ensure they are armed with all of the relevant information. The following is a list of some of the more common mistakes made by patients, and the truth which lies behind the misconceptions:
1. Myth: You brush your teeth to remove food debris
Truth: The main reason for brushing the teeth twice a day for a period of 2 minutes each time is to remove any plaque which is present, thus preventing a dangerous build up. If left in place for longer than 26 hours, plaque will begin to attack and irritate the gums.
2. Myth: It’s normal for gums to bleed a little
Truth: Gums which bleed when you clean your teeth are one of the starkest and clearest signs that gum disease might be developing. Ignoring bleeding gums is on a par with ignoring any other part of the body which starts bleeding.
3. Myth:Unhealthy teeth don’t affect general health
Truth: if periodontal disease causes an infection in the gums, the bacteria produced can enter the bloodstream and create much wider and even more serious health problems. People with advanced periodontal disease are therefore more likely to suffer problems such as heart disease, a stroke and, in women, the risk of delivering a premature, underweight baby.
4. Myth: Not cleaning your teeth is what causes bad breath
Truth: the sad truth is that a patient can maintain an excellent oral hygiene regime and yet still develop the problem of bad breath. Certain bacteria in the mouth combine to produce sulphur compounds. If these compounds reach a large enough scale they can cause clinical bad breath, or ‘halitosis’. One way of combatting this problem is to brush the surface of the tongue as well as brushing the teeth and flossing along the gum line.
5. Myth: Tooth decay is what causes tooth loss
Truth: tooth decay combined with periodontal diseases is what causes most patients to lose their teeth.
6. Myth: Pregnant women have got too much on their mind to worry about dental check-ups
Truth: periodontal disease can have an adverse effect upon the health of unborn babies. Any infection during pregnancy, including those associated with periodontal diseases, can lead to a greater risk of babies being delivered underweight and prematurely. Looking after your gums, then, is just as important as looking after your teeth. Indeed, it is a vital component of looking after your teeth. Visit your dentist regularly and you’ll greatly increase your chances of avoiding periodontal disease, since your dentist will be able to spot the early telltale signs, and will also be able to outline the most effective preventative oral hygiene methods.