Think your teeth are all that matters when you go to the dentist? Is your number one goal to hear the dentist congratulate you for no cavities?

There’s more to your mouth than teeth. Gum health can be even more important than your pearly whites. Healthy gums are essential when it comes to retaining teeth and having a beautiful smile with fresh breath.

Periodontal (gum) disease is the fifth leading disease in our country. It is estimated that 24 per cent of Australians have some form of it.

At Dockland’s Dental Studio in Melbourne, our doctors perform a full checkup to determine overall oral health, including looking for signs gum disease. If needed, periodontal disease treatment can eliminate or reduce symptoms.

What is periodontal disease?

In its mildest form, periodontal disease is called gingivitis. Tartar build-up inflames and irritates the gums, causing them to become swollen and red. If it continues, gums can become tender and easily bleed with brushing and flossing.

Since the symptoms of gingivitis are mild and the teeth remain stable without bone or tissue loss, many patients do not even know they have it.

If not treated properly, gingivitis can advance to periodontitis. In this stage, infection disrupts the healthy bond between teeth and gums, causing gum recession and pockets around the gum line. Sensitive or loose teeth, painful chewing, tender gums, and chronic bad breath are common.

These pockets become infected easily, causing more bleeding. This infection may be too mild for the patient to notice, but the body’s immune system goes to work, causing the release of bacterial toxins. As the infection spreads, toxins get below the gum line, deepening the pockets and destroying bone and tissue that holds teeth in place. The teeth become loose and may need to be removed.

As it progresses, periodontitis causes more gum loss, tooth loss, and the death of jawbone tissue. It is the most common cause of adult tooth loss.

Ignoring gum health can cause an avalanche of consequences that can be painful and costly, including the need for surgery, dental implants, and bone grafts.

Periodontal disease is also linked to increased susceptibility to other health issues, such as heart disease, diabetes, endocarditis, and low birth weight.

What causes periodontal disease?

Our mouths are naturally full of bacteria. The bacteria mixes with other things in your mouth, like mucus and particles of food, and causes a colourless, sticky “plaque” to form. Plaque that is not removed by flossing and brushing hardens into calculus, also known as tartar. Once hardened into tartar, only a professional cleaning by a dental hygienist or dentist can remove it.

The biggest cause of gum disease is improper oral hygiene.

There are, however, other factors that come into play:

  • Smoking—not only increases risk but reduces the chances of successful treatment.
  • Avoiding the dentist—the more tartar build-up you have, the more plaque sticks to it, making even more tartar.
  • Hormone fluctuations—such as with pregnancy, menses, and menopause.
  • Diabetes—this disease increases risk for all types of infections.
  • Nutritional deficiencies—such as not enough vitamin C or too much sugar.
  • Crooked or irregular teeth—can make it hard to brush and floss adequately.
  • Medications—many prescription and over-the-counter medications cause a reduction in saliva, increasing the risk of infection.
  • Genetics—some people are more genetically susceptible.
  • Compromised immune system—such as with HIV or cancer treatment.
  • Grinding or clenching your teeth.
  • Ageing—the older you get, the more likely you will have gum disease.
  • Aggressive brushing—it is true. Excessive pressure when brushing can damage tissue and increase gingival recession. If unsure about the best way to brush, ask your dentist or hygienist for help.

What is the treatment for periodontal disease?

The best treatment for periodontal disease is prevention. Good oral home health with daily flossing and twice-daily brushing remain at the top of the list for maintaining a healthy mouth.

Regular dental exams are also important, as regular brushing and flossing will not remove tartar, and gum disease won’t go away without professional dental cleanings. At your checkups, the hygienist and dentist will look for any signs of gum disease.

If gingivitis is found, the treatment plan would include good oral home health and continuing regular exams. These measures can be enough to reverse gingivitis before it progresses to periodontitis.

Once it progresses to periodontitis, however, more aggressive treatment is needed.

While the destruction to bone and tissue from periodontitis is irreversible, progression can be halted with proper treatment.

At Dockland’s Dental Studio, we perform non-surgical deep cleaning. The first step is scaling, which removes the tartar and plaque below the gum line. Then we perform root planing, which smooths any rough edges or ridges on the roots of the teeth to reduce the risk of future tartar and plaque build-up.

After treatment, you may be given topical antibiotics for infection.

In addition, we will discuss any risk factors that may need to be addressed, such as smoking cessation and improving home hygiene and nutrition.

At this point, whether your periodontal disease improves, stops, or gets worse depends on how well you care for your gums and teeth through good oral hygiene and proper follow up with the dentist.

Follow up requires more frequent dental visits to ensure the gums are healthy and reattaching and that the pockets between your teeth and gums are reducing.

If your disease progresses to the point of needing surgical treatment, we will refer you to a periodontist.

In Summary

While there are certain risk factors for periodontal disease you may not be able to change, there are many things you can do. Proper home hygiene, regular professional exams and cleanings, and smoking cessation are the most significant things you can do for good oral health.

It may be easy to ignore your oral health, especially if you don’t have any symptoms, but doing so can lead to expensive problems down the road.

A smart driver wouldn’t ignore oil changes and maintenance for over 30,000 miles. Sure, the car may seem fine up to that point, but the damage is happening. The consequences will come.

The same is true for your oral health. Gum disease can be “silent” at first, with few or no symptoms, but when ignored, it can progress fast.

Do not take your gums for granted, as they are the foundation for good oral health and strong teeth.

At Dockland’s Dental Studio, our goal is to give you a beautiful, healthy smile. Contact us online or call our office today at 0488-799-487 to make an appointment.

Our dental practice is within a 30-minute commute from North Melbourne or West Melbourne. Take the bus or tram into the city, then hop on Tram Number 11 or 48 from Collins Street towards Docklands; get off at Collins Landing (Stop D17).