How to Tell if You May Have Periodontal Disease
Periodontal disease, which also goes by gum disease, is a leading cause of tooth loss. Increasingly, research is also strengthening the link between it and other chronic diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.
You’d think that’s enough to warrant a spot on our radars, maybe not among the most urgent threats, but at least among the kinds of concerns that need regular monitoring, like the aforementioned chronic diseases. Because here’s the thing: It’s so easily preventable. Brush and floss a couple times a day and see your dentist, as recommended, for a check-up and cleaning and you’re pretty much in the clear.
And yet a recent, groundbreaking study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that almost half of American adults age 30 and older have periodontal disease. As easy as it is to prevent, it’s just as easy for a dentist or periodontist to spot, which means that millions of unsuspecting adults are walking around with some degree of periodontal disease and don’t even realize it.
Could you imagine if half of us were in some stage of heart failure and didn’t know it? Because relatively little effort is needed to remedy this situation, it’s a rare opportunity to have a meaningful impact on one of the “most prevalent non-communicable chronic diseases in our population,” which is how periodontal disease has been described, with a grassroots campaign. So, to try to heighten awareness and put a dent in that gaudy figure, we’re starting a brief series with this post that’s going to show you exactly what periodontal disease looks like, the various reasons why you need to keep it out of your mouth, and the treatments that are available if you do have it.
Spotting the symptoms of periodontal disease
Let’s start with a little self-exam. Gum disease can be hard to spot by the untrained eye. A lot of the symptoms don’t become all that prevalent until the advanced stage of the disease. There are, however, several warning signs that may indicate you have the start of gum disease. They include:
- Red, swollen or tender gums or other pain in your mouth
- Bleeding while brushing, flossing, or eating hard food
Gums that are receding or pulling away from the teeth, causing the teeth to look longer than before
- Loose or separating teeth
- Pus between your gums and teeth
- Sores in your mouth
- Persistent bad breath
- A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
- A change in the fit of partial dentures
Keep in mind, the presence of any one or two of these conditions is not a clear indication that you have gum disease. But they do warrant a more thorough examination by a dentist or periodontist.
What exactly is gum disease?
Gingivitis is the mildest form of periodontal disease. The gums become red, swollen, and tend to bleed easily, but there’s usually little or no discomfort at this point.
It arises, in most cases, from not brushing and flossing consistently or having a professional cleaning done on a regular basis, though there are factors that can heighten the risk, including diabetes, smoking, a genetic predisposition, systematic diseases and conditions, malnutrition, hormonal fluctuations, pregnancy, puberty, substance abuse, HIV infection, certain medication use, stress, and simple aging.
Left unchecked, gingivitis can advance to periodontal disease, also known as periodontitis. Over time, plaque can begin to spread and grow below the gum line. Toxins produced by the bacteria in plaque irritate the gums and stimulate a chronic inflammatory response in which the body basically turns on itself. The tissues and bone that support the teeth break down. Gums separate from the teeth and spaces form between the teeth and the gums that become infected. Those spaces deepen as the disease progresses, and more gum tissue and bone are destroyed in the process.
For such a destructive process, the symptoms are fairly mild. But, if periodontal disease goes untreated long enough, teeth loosen and may need to be removed.
Periodontitis comes in a number of forms, but these are the most common:
Chronic periodontitis is the most frequently occurring kind of periodontitis. It’s prevalent in adults, but it can occur at any age.
Aggressive periodontitis occurs in patients who are otherwise healthy. The destruction of the bone and the spacing between the teeth and gums occur much more quickly than they typically would.
Periodontitis as a manifestation of systematic disease, such as heart disease, respiratory disease, and diabetes, can begin at a young age. Periodontal disease, otherwise, is rare in kids and only sometimes found in adolescents.
Now that you know what you’re looking for, or at least enough of the basic warning signs to schedule an exam with a dentist or periodontist, check back with us next month, when we’ll get into why you need to make those exams a habit.