Many people with gum disease hope that the condition will go away on its own. However, this is not the case. Gum disease is an infection that is unlikely to resolve without improved care. However, depending on the severity of your gum disease, Las Vegas dentist Dr. James B. Polley might be able to resolve your gum disease without invasive treatments.
If you do have serious gum disease, it is important to resolve it as quickly as you can. Gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss among adults in the US, but its effects spread far beyond your teeth. It’s been linked to many serious illnesses that can kill you.
Gum Disease Is an Infection
What’s most important to understand about why gum disease doesn’t go away on its own is knowing that it’s (usually) a bacterial infection. Your body can’t develop antibodies to stop it the way they do a virus. In other words, it’s not like a cold, or even the flu. It’s more like strep throat or pneumonia. Yes, there is a chance that it will get better, but most likely it will get worse and never really resolve without proper care.
Bacteria are living creatures. They are fierce and independent, and well-adapted to living inside your mouth. They fight to survive against your body, which is trying to keep them under control. In fact, oral bacteria have developed a number of “dirty tricks” that help them overcome or even corrupt your immune system so they can avoid detection and destruction.
And like other infections, if gum disease isn’t controlled, it can spread through the body, which is part of why it is so serious.
Types of Gum Disease
In general, we divide gum disease into two types, depending on how severe it is. Gingivitis is the mild form of gum disease. It’s characterized by swollen, and may bleed or hurt when you brush. Periodontitis is the more serious form of gum disease. At this point, your gums might bleed spontaneously, and they can begin to recede–pulling away from your teeth and then shrinking. You might see pus between your teeth and gums. Your teeth can start to be loose. They may drift out of place. This is because oral bacteria (and your immune system) are attacking your bones as well as your gums.
Does Gingivitis Always Become Periodontitis?
Some people have gingivitis for life, but it never develops into periodontitis. For other people, gingivitis can rapidly become periodontitis. We’re not always sure what causes the condition to evolve, but it seems to be influenced by a number of factors, such as:
- Oral hygiene
- The specific bacteria in your mouth
We can help you understand the factors that are at play in your mouth so you can protect yourself from serious gum disease.
Improved Diet and Hygiene Can Tip the Balance
There are ways that you can reduce the severity of your gum disease without getting treatment. First, remember that harmful bacteria like to feed on carbohydrates in your food. The more you eat with refined sugar and simple carbohydrates, the more fuel there is for oral bacteria that can damage your teeth and gums. Eating less sugar can reduce the fuel that bacteria have to reproduce and attack your body.
Good oral hygiene can also help. Brushing at least twice a day and flossing every day can help you remove oral bacteria so that you keep their numbers down. This reduces the severity of their attack, and makes it easier for your immune system to take care of the bacteria that remain.
This includes professional cleanings at your dentist’s office. Even quite thorough home hygiene either misses some bacteria or doesn’t get it removed quickly enough. Bacteria that remains on your teeth long enough absorb minerals from your saliva, and essentially fossilizes, turning into rocks on your teeth that you can’t just brush away, called tartar or dental calculus. That’s one of the things we remove during your regular cleaning. If it isn’t removed regularly, it provides shelter for bacteria, which can then increase their numbers.
Treatments for Advanced Gum Disease
Generally, you can only hope to control gingivitis with home care and routine oral hygiene. Once your gum disease has progressed to the level of periodontitis, you need specific treatment to get it under control. There are many potential treatments that can fight gum disease and heal its impacts on your mouth.
Scaling and Root Planing
Scaling and root planing is the first treatment we will recommend for periodontitis. This is essentially a more advanced form of professional cleaning, where we remove tartar from your teeth, including below the gum line.
We clean out the area around your teeth, and smooth your tooth roots to make it easier for your gums to bond and harder for oral bacteria. Then we press the gums back in place, encouraging them to bond with your teeth again.
Sometimes we will perform this procedure, but we might also refer you to a periodontist.
Pocket reduction is a more aggressive form of scaling and root planing. Instead of just working with the areas that can be accessed normally, a dentist will cut your gums to create flaps that can be moved aside to allow deeper cleaning around your teeth and bones.
Once cleaning is complete, the flap is stitched back in place snug against your teeth to help it heal properly.
Periodontitis can destroy your gum tissue, leading to receding gums. This exposes your tooth roots, which makes your teeth sensitive and can put you at increased risk for root cavities, which are harder to treat than cavities in your tooth crowns.
Your gums won’t usually grow back, so you will need a procedure to restore your gum tissue and protect your teeth. A gum graft takes gum tissue from a donor site (often the roof of your mouth) and places it on your teeth where you lost gum tissue.
As we noted above, gum disease can destroy not just your gums, but also the bone around your teeth. Like your gums, bones don’t normally grow back once they’re lost to gum disease. If your teeth have lost too much bony support, we will want to replace the bone to secure your teeth.
This is a similar procedure to what is used to support dental implants, and it may take bone from a donor site in your body or use artificial bone graft material.
A Lifelong Battle to Live Long
As with many conditions, gum disease doesn’t have a “cure.” It can be treated, but treatment must be maintained to keep the condition at bay.
However, it is important to keep gum disease under control because it can have potentially deadly effects. Gum disease has been linked to many serious health conditions, including:
- Heart disease
- Autoimmune disorders
Gum disease has been linked to heart disease in many ways. Not only do we have a strong statistical link, we know that oral bacteria enters your blood daily and are found in the plaque that clogs arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. We know this has been a problem for thousands of years, thanks to a mummy.
Diabetes and gum disease have a reciprocal relationship. People with diabetes are at a higher risk of gum disease, and those with gum disease have a harder time controlling their blood sugar.
There are many potential links between gum disease and cancer. Gum disease triggers a chronic inflammatory state, and chronic inflammation has been linked to a higher cancer risk. When gum disease bacteria subvert our immune system, they can mask cancer cells, which can let smaller tumors grow.
When oral bacteria subvert our immune system, they can sometimes make it attack our own body instead of the invading bacteria. The autoimmune disorder that is linked most strongly with gum disease is rheumatoid arthritis, but it has also been linked to psoriasis.
Inflammation is likely the reason why gum disease is linked to dementia. Several studies have shown a strong link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
With all of these factors considered, it’s no surprise that people with gum disease are at a higher risk of early death than those without gum disease.
Therefore, to protect your overall health, it’s important to keep your gum disease under control.