The surprising role your gums play in your health.

If you had to guess, how vital would you say your gums are to your oral health? What about to your overall health? It might surprise you to learn that they actually hold a vital role in both. Your gums seal the vulnerable roots of your teeth off from bacteria, protecting them from decay. They also prevent bacteria from making their way into your bloodstream, which can cause a wide range of overall health issues. So while your gums may look unassuming, they’re essential for your health—which makes it just as essential for you to make sure they’re healthy.

An important step in keeping your gums healthy is understanding the basics of the greatest threat to their health: periodontal disease. Knowing the danger it poses, how to spot it, and how to prevent it can help you better protect not just the health of your gums, but the health of your entire body as well. To help you understand how and give you a head start on your home dental care, we’ve provided a breakdown of periodontal disease.

What is periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease is an infection that occurs in your gums when bacteria begin attacking them. It can be broken down into two specific types. Gingivitis is a milder form of gum disease where bacteria cause red, inflamed gums. If it isn’t treated, it has the potential to develop into periodontitis, a much more severe form of gum disease where your gum tissue begins to pull away from your teeth. This breaks the seal that your gums naturally form, allowing bacteria underneath the gum line to attack the roots and other supporting structures of your teeth.

At its worst, periodontitis can lead to tooth loss—and since periodontitis is the leading cause of tooth loss in America, this isn’t as rare as you might initially think. Even if you’ve never had a cavity, the health of your teeth is in danger if your gums aren’t healthy. Periodontal disease has the potential to wreak lasting damage on the health of your teeth and gums, so even mild cases always require immediate treatment.

What causes periodontal disease?

Poor oral hygiene is the most well-known cause of periodontal disease, and it’s certainly one of the major factors—but it’s not the only cause. Other factors, including genetics, pre-existing medical conditions like autoimmune diseases or diabetes, medications that cause dry mouth, hormonal changes like those that occur during pregnancy, any form of tobacco use, and obesity can increase your risk of getting gum disease.

What are the symptoms of periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease has a wide range of potential symptoms, many of which you can easily overlook at home, especially in the earlier stages. If you do notice a few symptoms, it’s easy to brush them off or not realize their significance, partially because gum disease is often completely painless until it’s very advanced. Common symptoms of gingivitis include gums that have begun to recede from your teeth, darkened in color, or bleed when you floss or brush your teeth. Your gums may also be slightly swollen or tender and you may struggle to keep bad breath under control.

As periodontal disease develops into periodontitis, existing symptoms often worsen and more severe symptoms begin to appear. Receding gums can cause new gaps to form between your teeth or may make your teeth look longer than they used to. You may notice that your teeth feel a little loose, fit together differently when you bite, or even hurt when you chew. Eventually, periodontitis will lead to tooth loss if it isn’t treated.

How do I tell the difference between normal bad breath and bad breath caused by gum disease?

In general, bad breath should go away—and stay away—after you brush and floss your teeth and rinse your mouth with mouthwash. If it regularly comes back only a few minutes after you’ve completed a thorough oral hygiene routine, this may be a cause for concern. There are a few other factors that can cause persistent bad breath, such as eating food that contains a lot of garlic or onions, but it’s worth visiting your family dentist if this is a constant problem for you. Dr. Farless or Dr. Locklear will be able to tell you if your gums are healthy and may be able to help pinpoint a few other potential causes of your bad breath.

What overall health problems can periodontitis lead to?

Once bacteria make it underneath your gum line, they often make their way into your bloodstream as well. Your immune system responds to these invaders by triggering low-level inflammation in your body. Inflammation is a vital part of your immune response, but when it’s constant and throughout your body, such as often occurs with untreated periodontitis, it can lead to a long list of overall health problems. Periodontitis can make it harder for diabetic people to control their blood sugar and can increase the likelihood that pregnant women will give birth prematurely or have low-birthweight babies. The low-level inflammation throughout your body can also cause high blood pressure and increase your chances of suffering from a stroke or heart attack.

Additionally, while most people’s immune systems kill the oral bacteria themselves without much of a problem, this isn’t always the case; oral bacteria can sometimes trigger potentially life-threatening infections, such as endocarditis, in other parts of your body. Inhaling oral bacteria also increases your likelihood of suffering from respiratory illnesses like pneumonia.

How is periodontal disease treated?

There are several ways to treat periodontal disease, so exactly how Dr. Farless or Dr. Locklear will go about treating you depends upon the severity of your case. Gingivitis can usually be treated at home by committing to a regular and thorough oral hygiene routine. In addition to visiting your dentist for a checkup every six months, you should brush your teeth for at least two minutes twice a day, floss at least once a day, and use a mouthwash that’s designed to help fight against gingivitis either once or twice a day. After just a week or two of following your new routine, your gums should stop bleeding when you floss. This is a good sign that your gums are healthy again.

Periodontitis is a little harder to treat, however, because the bacteria need to be thoroughly cleaned from beneath your gum line. As a result, you’ll need your dentist in Greensboro, NC, to perform specialized treatments. Scaling and root planing are two nonsurgical treatments for periodontitis that are often performed together. These procedures clean bacteria from the roots of your teeth and then smooth their surface to discourage future infections. In severe cases, surgical treatments may need to be performed to clean beneath the gums more thoroughly or to repair the damage done to your gums or the supporting structures of your teeth. Whether you have gingivitis or periodontitis, you may also be prescribed an antibiotic to help your body fight off any lingering bacteria.

How can I prevent periodontal disease?

Thankfully, preventing periodontal disease is generally as simple as maintaining a great oral hygiene routine at home—including flossing. Flossing is absolutely vital to help you keep your gums healthy because it’s the only way to remove plaque and bacteria from around your gum line. You should also visit your family dentist every six months, as they will be able to keep an eye out for signs of gum disease, give you tips on how to better care for your teeth and gums, and treat any issues they do find early. Detecting gum disease early is incredibly important to prevent it from doing lasting damage to your oral or overall health. If you’re following a thorough oral hygiene routine at home and are still struggling with gum disease, try flossing twice a day and schedule a consultation with your dentist. They may be able to give you tips on more steps you can take.

Your gums might seem unassuming at first glance, but they have a surprisingly huge impact on your oral and overall health. The good news is that they’re incredibly easy to care for—sticking to a great oral hygiene routine is usually all you need to keep them healthy. It’s a pretty small investment of time for huge returns, as your overall health will be better in the long term as well. If you suspect you may have gum disease, are ready to commit to your oral health, or simply need to book a regular appointment, feel free to call our family dentistry Greensboro, NC, office to schedule an appointment at any time.