With Halloween comes fear, mainly of cavities and weight gain. But if you’re not careful, you could end up with a real horror show on your hands: Gum disease. It’s something that is surprisingly easy to develop, even if you’re a devoted gym rat and eat a totally clean, low-sugar diet. E, a successful executive in Toronto who prides herself on her pristine physical health, told us that she visited her dentist only to get shocking feedback from her hygienist: That while she appeared to take great care of her health, her oral health was in shambles, and would require serious attention to get back on track. She’s been able to repair the damage done from forgetting to floss, but often, the outcome isn’t so pretty. (Remember our story about the 34-year-old with the gums of an 85-year-old? She had to have incredibly painful oral surgery.)
To find out how you can avoid looking having the mouth of a jack-o-lantern, we asked Marlene Condotta, a Registered Dental Hygienist with the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario and member of the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association, to answer our questions about gum disease:
How do you get gum disease?
Bacterial plaque forms on all oral surfaces. If bacterial plaque is left undisturbed, inflammation results (gingivitis). Initially inflammation is limited to the soft tissues (i.e. the gums, or gingiva). If inflammation is left untreated, the bacteria below the gums releases toxins that destroy supporting structures surrounding the teeth (i.e. jaw bone and ligament).
How do you know if you have gum disease?
Surprisingly, the destructive process may not be detected by the patient—often, symptoms don’t appear until later in the disease cycle. But an early sign is bleeding gums (although even this early sign can be masked in some individuals, especially smokers). More obvious signs such as pain, abscess formation (pus), swelling, bad breath, and bad taste often appear much later, when the disease is more advanced. At this point patients are often faced with tooth loss and the prospect of wearing dentures.
At the dentist’s office, periodontal disease can be detected by measuring the amount of gum that has become detached from the tooth and through radiograph (x-ray) examination.
Untreated periodontal disease can result in the following symptoms:
- Gums that look inflamed and unhealthy
- Bad breath
- Premature aging appearance due to; Loss of teeth, which results in loss of jaw bone mass which supports soft tissue and facial structure, and gum recession “long in the tooth” appearance. Both are esthetically unpleasing.
- Systemic disease, including cardiovascular disease.
- Gum recession resulting in increased hot and cold sensitivity.
- Loss of teeth causes loss of function, possibly leading to dietary limitations.
- Loss of jaw bone mass that can compromise tooth replacement options or make them entirely impossible.
So what can a patient do to prevent or reverse gum disease?