Normal, healthy gums are a light pink. If your gums are red, or if they bleed when you brush, you have a problem.
Gum or periodontal disease is a bacterial infection of the gum tissue surrounding your tooth roots. If you don’t practice good oral hygiene — failing to brush, floss, and get regular dental check-ups — you open the door for an infection to develop in the tissue, become established there, and worsen over time.
It’s a little scary that, despite our status as a first-world country, about 50% of adults over 30 in the United States have mild-to-severe symptoms of gum disease, and, by far, it’s the most common cause of tooth loss.
At Riverdale Dental Arts, Dr. Sheldon Kupferman and his staff treat all forms of gum disease at their office in the Bronx, New York. They have served this community for over 30 years, so you know they are a trusted voice in oral and dental care. Here, they take the opportunity to inform you about the signs and symptoms of gum disease, so you’ll know when to seek medical help.
What causes gum disease, and what are its different stages?
Gum tissue serves an important purpose in your oral health. It provides stability for your teeth and allows them to function without shifting out of place. If the tissue becomes damaged, it can’t function properly, leading to loose teeth and tooth loss.
What causes gum damage? Probably the most prevalent problem is poor oral hygiene. If you don’t brush and floss properly, bacteria in your mouth can feed on the sugars and carbohydrates left behind from food, building up into a sticky plaque.
Bacteria produce acid as a byproduct of their feasting, which both hurts your tooth enamel and irritates your gums. As a result, your gums may turn red and tender and bleed lightly when you brush. This is the early stage of gum disease, called gingivitis.
If you don’t treat gingivitis, the plaque hardens into tartar (aka calculus) that extends below your gum line, where you can’t reach. Not only can’t you remove it, but while it’s under the tissue it causes even more inflammation.
Untreated gingivitis advances to periodontitis; the bacteria produce toxins as a byproduct, and your gums swell, hurt, and turn a dusky red color. They’re painful when you eat, and the encroaching tartar makes the tissue begin to pull away from your tooth roots, leaving deep pockets where tartar and bacteria continue to build up.
If you don’t address this worsening problem, your gums can pull completely away from your tooth roots, leaving them exposed. The nerve inside your teeth becomes extremely sensitive to hot and cold as it’s irritated, and the connective tissue that holds your teeth in place weakens. Permanent teeth loosen in their sockets and may even fall out. And the persistent infection starts to destroy the bone tissue in your jaw beneath the root.
Who is at risk for gum disease?
Aside from poor oral hygiene, additional factors can put you at risk for developing gum disease:
- Recreational drug use: includes medical marijuana
- Tobacco in any form
- Lack of essential nutrients: prevents tissue healing
- Being overweight or obese: stresses cells, leading to high blood sugar levels
- Hormonal changes: include pregnancy and perimenopause
- Medications with dry mouth as a side effect
- Being immunocompromised
- Certain diseases: include diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn's disease
Maintaining good oral hygiene becomes critical if you have any of these risk factors.
How can you treat gum disease?
How you treat gum disease depends on the severity of the infection.
Deep, professional dental cleaning
Dr. Kupferman performs a procedure called scaling and root planing to remove all traces of plaque, tartar, and bacterial debris. Scaling involves using a special tool to scrape the plaque, tartar, and bacteria from your tooth surfaces, including under your gum line. Root planing smooths the root surfaces, making it hard for the bacteria to stick to them. It also allows for proper healing.
If your gums have receded from your teeth, our team may take tissue from the roof of your mouth and place it over damaged areas, allowing them to heal.
Laser therapy isn’t used as a standalone treatment, but it works well when paired with traditional therapies. The dentist uses the laser’s highly focused light to access and remove the infected gum tissue from around your tooth's root. They then follow it up with scaling and root planning. One of the benefits of laser therapy is that it cauterizes the tissue as it goes, making it bleed less and easier to heal. It also destroys the infection at the same time.
If your gums are red and tender, don’t wait. Call Riverdale Dental Arts at 718-548-1148 to set up an evaluation, or book online with us today.