What is periodontitis?
Periodontitis is a serious gum infection that damages the soft tissue and destroys the bone that supports your teeth. It’s caused by poor oral hygiene that allows plaque – a sticky film of bacteria – to build up on the teeth and spread infection to the gums and bone. If not treated promptly, periodontitis can lead to receding gums, loose teeth and eventually tooth loss.
The early stage of the disease is called gingivitis. At this point, the infection is mild and reversible with professional cleaning and improved oral hygiene. If gingivitis goes untreated, it can advance to periodontitis.
What are the symptoms of early periodontitis?
The symptoms of early periodontitis include:
– Red, swollen or tender gums
– Bleeding when brushing or flossing
– Bad breath that doesn’t go away with brushing or flossing
– Gums that appear pulled away or separated from the teeth
– New spaces developing between the teeth
– Pus between the teeth and gums
– Loose or shifting teeth
These symptoms are usually mild at first and you may not even notice them. But it’s important to be on the lookout for changes in your gum health and tell your dentist about any concerns at your regular checkups. The sooner periodontal disease is caught, the better the chances of stopping its progression.
What causes periodontitis?
Periodontitis is caused by plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that constantly forms on the teeth. If plaque isn’t removed thoroughly each day with brushing and flossing, it will build up below the gumline and trigger inflammation.
Certain risk factors can increase a person’s susceptibility to periodontitis:
– Poor oral hygiene habits
– Smoking or tobacco use
– Diabetes and other conditions that affect the immune system
– Medications that cause dry mouth
– Clenching or grinding teeth
– Genetic susceptibility
However, even with good oral care, periodontitis can still develop. The bacteria that cause the infection are highly complex. Over time, plaque spreads and matures underneath the gums, weakening the tissues and bone that support the teeth.
Can early periodontal disease be reversed?
If caught at the gingivitis stage, early periodontal disease is often reversible with professional treatment and improved daily oral hygiene. The key is to remove plaque and tartar before they can cause increased inflammation and destruction.
Here are steps for stopping gingivitis from turning into periodontitis:
– Get a comprehensive periodontal exam at your dentist. Special tests and X-rays will determine if you have bone loss characteristic of periodontitis. If it’s diagnosed as gingivitis, early action can help get the infection under control.
– Undergo a professional deep cleaning. Your dentist will scrape off stubborn tartar above and below the gumline and smooth away any rough spots on teeth that harbor bacteria. This removes infection and plaque from pockets around the teeth and lays the foundation for healing.
– Start brushing carefully and flossing daily. Gentle, thorough home care is essential for cleaning areas that your toothbrush can’t reach. Floss under the gums to disrupt plaque and sweep bacteria off the tooth surfaces.
– Use antibacterial rinses. Your dentist may prescribe a rinse containing chlorhexidine to kill harmful bacteria missed by brushing and flossing. Use as directed.
– Have follow-up care. After deep cleaning, your dentist will want to see you more often for cleanings, typically every 3 months. These regular visits ensure that plaque is kept under control and your gums stay healthy.
– Quit tobacco. Smoking and chewing tobacco significantly worsen gum disease and reduce healing. Quitting tobacco use is the best way to halt tissue destruction.
– Get treatment for other conditions. Diabetes, hormonal changes, medications and stress can increase susceptibility to gum disease. Treating these underlying issues helps optimize healing.
With diligent oral care and professional treatment, early periodontitis can be stopped from progressing to irreversible damage. But once extensive bone loss occurs, the disease usually requires complex procedures to try and regenerate lost tissues. That’s why early detection and prevention are so important.
When to see a periodontist
A periodontist is a dentistry specialist in treating gum disease. Your general dentist will often recommend seeing a periodontist if:
– You have signs of moderate to severe periodontitis, including gum recession and significant bone loss. Periodontists have advanced skills for dealing with infection and regenerating lost support for the teeth.
– Pockets around your teeth are getting deeper despite treatment. Deep cleanings by a periodontist can better access and treat pockets deeper than 3-4 mm.
– You need complex regeneration procedures. Options like bone grafting require specialized surgical skills and techniques.
– Non-surgical treatments haven’t stopped disease progression. A periodontist can determine if you could benefit from antibiotics or other options.
– You have a history of periodontal disease or conditions that increase susceptibility. A periodontist can help stay ahead of potential problems through ongoing monitoring and maintenance.
Seeing a periodontist for early treatment of gum disease can halt tissue damage before it takes hold and potentially save teeth that would otherwise be lost. If your regular dentist diagnoses early signs of periodontitis, following their referral to a periodontist is crucial.
Tips for preventing periodontitis
Good oral hygiene and professional care can help prevent periodontitis from developing. Try these tips:
– Brush teeth thoroughly twice a day using proper technique. Hold your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle near the gumline and sweep or circularly brush each area for at least two minutes. Use a soft-bristled brush and replace it every 3-4 months.
– Floss once daily. Gently insert floss between teeth and under the gumline, curving it into a C-shape against each tooth. Be careful not to snap the floss down, which can damage delicate gum tissues.
– Get professional cleanings and exams every 6 months. Your dentist or hygienist will be able to spot early signs of periodontal disease and remove plaque in places you may have missed. Regular visits are key for detecting gingivitis before it escalates.
– Look for antigingivitis toothpastes. Some toothpastes contain antibacterial ingredients to help reduce plaque and prevent gingivitis. Ask your dentist for recommendations.
– Limit sugary or starchy snacks and beverages. The bacteria that cause tooth decay feed on carbohydrates and produce acid that can inflame and damage gum tissues.
– Don’t smoke or use tobacco. Tobacco use is a major risk factor for periodontitis. The chemicals suppress immune function and damage oral tissues. If you currently use tobacco, talk with your doctor about quitting.
– Get diabetes and other conditions under control. Responding well to treatments for chronic diseases can lower your susceptibility to severe gum disease. Your dentist and physician can help manage your interrelated health issues.
Daily prevention and regular professional care offer the best protection against periodontitis – especially when started early. With vigilance, it’s possible to halt gingivitis before it endangers the gums and bone that support your teeth.
Outlook for reversing early periodontal disease
The prognosis for reversing early periodontitis with gingivitis treatment is usually quite good. If gum inflammation and plaque buildup are caught early on and removed, the tissues can heal and return to a healthy state. However, some factors affect how well your gums will respond:
– How much plaque was present – More severe inflammation and thicker plaque deposits can take longer to resolve. But removing infection early on is still beneficial.
– How long the disease was unchecked – The sooner treatment starts, the less chance for bacteria to spread and penetrate gum tissues.
– Your periodontal anatomy – Some people are more prone to aggressive disease due to the contours of their mouth and teeth positioning. Careful ongoing management is important.
– Your health conditions – Diseases like diabetes can interfere with healing capabilities. Working to improve overall health supports gum recovery.
– Your daily oral hygiene – Meticulous at-home care after professional treatment prevents recurrence of disease. Brushing and flossing removes lingering plaque bacteria.
– Quitting smoking – Gum and bone cells cannot heal adequately in the presence of tobacco chemicals. Stopping use improves outcomes.
– Regular dental visits – Monitoring and maintenance care catches problems before they get out of control. Quick treatment of any setbacks helps.
With early detection and care, most cases of mild to moderate periodontitis can be stopped and reversed. Even more advanced disease can often be stabilized with diligent treatment from a dentist and periodontist. Healthy gums and stable bone levels are possible with the right management.
Periodontitis is a progressive gum infection that damages the tissues and bones supporting the teeth, but early detection gives the best chance for reversing disease. If gingivitis is halted before it advances, the infection and inflammation can be controlled and complications avoided. While susceptibility varies between individuals, anyone can benefit from preventive oral care and having regular dental checkups. Professional cleanings, daily brushing and flossing, tobacco cessation, and managing health conditions are all key to stopping early periodontal disease and maintaining good oral health. With proper treatment and vigilant home care, it’s possible to keep gums healthy and preserve your natural teeth for life.