Gum disease, also called periodontal disease, is a progressive bacterial infection that causes inflammation and destruction of the gum tissue. It can easily establish itself and worsen if you don’t maintain good oral hygiene and get regular dental checkups. In the United States, gum disease is a serious problem. More than 47% of adults aged 30 and older have some form of gum disease, and it’s the leading cause of tooth loss.

At Virginia H. Ellis, DDS Dental Corp. in Orinda, California, Virginia H. Ellis, DDS, and her team offer periodontal evaluations and effective treatment options for their patients. While not brushing and flossing can greatly increase your risk of developing gum disease, other factors can also increase your risk. Let’s get down to specifics.

The progression of gum disease

If you don’t brush and floss regularly and well, bacteria build up on the teeth and gums, forming a sticky plaque as they consume the sugars from food debris. This irritates the gum lining, causing inflammation and gums that bleed and feel tender to the touch. This initial stage of gum disease is called gingivitis.

Left untreated, the plaque hardens into tartar below the gumline, causing additional inflammation. Gingivitis officially progresses to periodontitis, where the bacteria start producing toxins that can irritate and damage the gums. The gums themselves become swollen, turn a darker red color, are painful when chewing, and may start to recede from the tooth roots, creating pockets where even more tartar and bacteria can build up.

If you still don’t address the problem, the gums can pull completely away from the teeth, leaving the roots exposed and sensitive to hot and cold. The receding gums weaken the connective tissue holding the teeth in place. Permanent teeth become unstable, loose, or even fall out. And the persistent infection can destroy both gum and bone tissue, the latter of which is known as alveolar bone loss.

8 reasons you could be at risk for gum disease

Aside from poor oral hygiene habits, there are eight additional factors that put you at risk for developing gum disease:

  1. Recreational drug use, including smoking or vaping marijuana
  2. Smoking or chewing tobacco
  3. A poor diet, especially one deficient in vitamin C
  4. Obesity, which stresses cells and may lead to high blood sugar levels
  5. Hormonal changes, including during pregnancy and perimenopause
  6. Genetics
  7. Medications that cause dry mouth or changes to gum tissue
  8. Being immunocompromised, such as having leukemia or HIV/AIDS, or undergoing cancer treatment
  9. Certain diseases, including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn's disease

Treating gum disease

If you’re developing gum disease, the first treatment Dr. Ellis recommends is a professional deep cleaning, also known as scaling and root planing. It involves:

  • Removing the bacterial plaque from your teeth
  • Scraping the tartar from below the gumline
  • Polishing the tooth roots to prevent bacteria from being able to stick

She also recommends lifestyle changes, such as improving your nutrition, managing your stress, and improving your sleep quality, since sleep is the period during which the body repairs and renews itself.

If your gum disease has progressed to an advanced state, she may suggest:

  • Prescription mouthwash
  • Antibiotics to remove the infection
  • An antiseptic chip (medicated gelatin you put in your mouth)
  • Flap surgery (surgical pocket reduction)
  • Bone and/or tissue grafts

Of course, she always starts with conservative options before considering surgical ones.

If you’re noticing signs of gum disease, or if you haven’t had a professional cleaning in a while, it’s time to come into the office to see Dr. Ellis. Call (925) 272-2698, or book an appointment online with Virginia H. Ellis, DDS Dental Corp. today.