What is Gum Disease
There are two main types of gum disease. The more common one, gingivitis, affects the gums only. The other type is known as periodontitis and affects both the bones and gums. This second form is more severe. Approximately eighty percent of people have some form of gum disease, and more teeth are lost from gum disease than any other reason.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection. Our immune system also has a key role and sometimes contributes to gum disease. Gum disease typically begins within the gums, and through stages it increases in severity. The disease eventually can spread into the bone at its most severe stages. The early stages of gum disease are characterized by puffy, red gums that bleed easily when brushed. Bad breath (halitosis) is also common.
In later bone involvement stages, one may notice teeth having larger spaces between them. The teeth appear longer due to the gums receding and may become loose and sore. Full blown infection in the form of a tooth abscess can occur locally, leading to severe pain and swelling.
Causes of Gum Disease
Gum disease is caused by the daily buildup of plaque and tarter (also known as calculus). If plaque is left undisturbed, it mineralizes and hardens to a dense substance called tarter. Plaque is usually found on the teeth above the gums. Tarter can be found on the teeth or hidden below the gums, so you can’t always see it. Tarter can be white, brown, greenish or black in colour. It’s these substances that are the cause of gum disease.
Do I Have Gum Disease?
Gum disease is an infection. Dr. Steve Mocrae and his hygienists use both radiographs and a probe to identify the stage of the gum disease. The probe, known as a “perio probe”, is a fine instrument that is gently placed between your gums and teeth to record measurements of gum height to bone. These measurements, along with x-rays showing bone height, will let us know if you have gum/periodontal disease and the stage it is at.
Treatment of Gum Disease
For early gum disease, regular hygienist cleaning of your teeth will be recommended. The cleaning frequency will be either once every six months, or once every three months (four times per year). This will depend on severity of gum disease and amount of tarter build up you regularly form. When you are having your initial treatment, you may need more than one appointment to properly clean your teeth. In terms of the actual treatment for gum disease, it will depend on your particular stage and severity of disease.
There are two components to the treatment of early gum disease. The first one is at-home regular brushing and flossing. Plaque forms daily and must be removed from teeth before it is allowed to cause damage. Our dental team can clean plaque and tarter off the teeth, but without regular maintenance cleaning at home, plaque will quickly build up. This means that if you are not doing your part, the treatment of gum disease may not work as planned. The second component to gum disease treatment is where our team comes in and it involves the removal of plaque and tarter in a treatment called scaling. If needed, chlorexidine mouthwash (see below) and laser therapy may be used to supplement treatment. In severe cases, possible referral to a periodontist (gum specialist) may be recommended.
A chlorhexidine rinse prescription may be given at any stage of gum disease treatment if the gums are swollen, red and bleed easily. This is a mouth wash that you use twice a day. Chlorhexidine rinse helps kill the bacteria that causes gum disease. As with any prescription medication, this rinse must be purchased with your written prescription at a pharmacy. In most cases, two weeks of use will be enough to settle infected gums down. However, without home brushing/flossing and regular office cleaning, gum disease may progress further.
Laser Gum Treatment
For moderate gum disease conditions, laser gum treatment may be advised by our dental team. In our laser treatment, use a “Biolase Laser Smile” diode laser. This procedure in most cases produces little to no pain. A low level laser light is used on the gum pockets around your teeth, sterilizing the bacteria causing the gum infection. If you are sensitive to this treatment we have a special numbing gel we can place on your gums to numb them.
We have noticed that with most cases of moderate gum disease, removing tarter from the teeth by scaling only partly reduces pocket depth. Pockets will typically reduce by 1-2mm, but usually no further. Laser gum treatment is different because it may be able to reduce your gum pockets further.
In severe gum disease, you may be eventually referred to a gum specialist called a Periodontist. Periodontists use surgical techniques to treat the most severe of cases.
Failure to address gum disease will mean you will lose your teeth. Sometimes much sooner than you think. If you have gum disease concerns for yourself or someone you know, please contact our dental team to book your assessment.