Understanding How Periodontitis Affects Your Smile and Your Long-term Oral Health
Tooth decay often takes the spotlight as the notorious enemy of oral health, but periodontal disease is just as common and, in the case of periodontitis, far more damaging to our smiles.
Periodontal disease, or gum disease, is an oral health condition characterized by gum inflammation and infection.
There are two phases to periodontal disease, with periodontitis being the most severe and destructive. Without treatment, periodontitis can cause irreversible damage to the gums, teeth, and surrounding bone structure.
However, periodontitis isn’t an incurable condition.
In fact, even advanced periodontitis often responds very favorably once treatment begins, with most patients being able to fully heal and get back a beautiful, healthy smile. Additionally, periodontitis is a preventable oral disease and caught in its early stages, can be reversed with minimally invasive treatment options.
Diving deeper into periodontitis and what it does to your smile.
Now that you’ve been introduced to periodontitis, let’s delve into more detail about how it develops and what it does to your gums, teeth, and overall oral health.
Periodontitis starts as gingivitis, the mildest form of periodontal disease.
Periodontitis rarely occurs independently of gingivitis, the first phase of periodontal disease.
Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease characterized by gum inflammation without tooth damage, bone loss, or permanent damage. Just like tooth decay, gingivitis is caused by a buildup of plaque around the teeth.
As plaque accumulates on the surface of the teeth it begins to irritate the gums. The plaque buildup not only physically pushes into the gums, but also allows bacteria to become trapped within the gum pocket surrounding each tooth.
This results in inflamed gums often exhibiting symptoms such as the following:
- Tenderness and pain
- Light bleeding
- Swelling and redness
These symptoms will often be most apparent when brushing, flossing, and eating.
Without treatment, gingivitis leads to a state of chronic gum inflammation.
Just like tooth decay will eventually occur without plaque removal, gingivitis will eventually turn into periodontitis without intervention. Gingivitis evolves into periodontitis when gum inflammation becomes chronic (constant).
Inflammation isn’t always a bad thing. It’s actually a very important healing response when bacteria, toxins, and injuries hurt our bodies. However, when an area of the body is in a constant state of inflammation, the healing chemicals that would normally help actually begin to have the opposite effect.
In the case of periodontitis, serious damage begins to occur in the form of
- Infection from trapped bacteria
- Receding gum lines
- Loss of gum tissue
- Loss of teeth
- Loss of bone
Periodontal disease generally progresses at a slow rate, gradually moving up levels from mild gingivitis to advanced periodontitis, but permanent damage can set in relatively quickly when a bacterial infection is present.
Periodontitis treatment has a high success rate, with recovery possible even in severe cases.
Treatment for both gingivitis and periodontitis is called periodontal therapy. Periodontal therapy isn’t exactly a singular type of treatment, but rather a treatment plan that incorporates multiple steps. Every periodontal therapy treatment plan is different, but generally, there are four stages.
Stage 1 focuses on getting the infection under control.
If you have a live infection, you’ll often be given a round of antibiotics before the next stage of treatment can begin.
Stage 2 focuses on cleaning the inflamed gum pockets.
A specially trained hygienist will perform a deep cleaning on your teeth and gums. This involves plaque removal from not only the visible surface of your teeth but also the hidden plaque and bacteria buildup under the gum surface.
Your dentist might also remove damaged gum tissue during this stage.
Stage 3 focuses on restoring function and beauty to your smile.
Irreversible damage happens with severe periodontitis, but a damaged smile certainly isn’t permanent. For example, dental implants can replace missing teeth, porcelain crowns will protect weakened teeth, or porcelain veneers will give a total smile makeover.
Stage 4 focuses on continued recovery and prevention.
Once a patient has had periodontitis, their chances of developing it again are higher than someone who has never had it. Your dentist may recommend dietary or lifestyle changes or schedule you for more frequent deep cleanings to maintain your oral health.
Preventing periodontitis is all about at-home oral hygiene and regular visits to your favorite dentist.
Oral hygiene routines and high-risk lifestyle habits have a significant impact on both the development of periodontitis as well as how quickly damage may occur. The good news is shifting your oral care and lifestyle to prevent periodontitis doesn’t require anything radical.
Here’s a breakdown of three highly effective preventive care categories.
Ensure your at-home oral care routine covers all the bases.
The foundation of your at-home oral care routine should revolve around brushing twice a day for two minutes and flossing at least once daily.
If you’re high-risk for periodontal disease or you just enjoy an extra clean smile, you can add an additional brushing or flossing session after main meals—especially if you suspect some food is stuck.
You can also add a tongue scraper and mouthwash to your routine. Layer these products into your routine by first tongue scraping, then flossing, brushing, and finally finishing with a mouthwash rinse.
Drop lifestyle habits that can negatively impact your oral health.
Smoking, chewing tobacco, vaping, and excessive alcohol are all health-harming habits that also increase your chances of developing periodontitis or relapsing if you’re already had gum disease.
Diet is another lifestyle habit to consider. Starches, sugars, and simple carbohydrates as well as very acidic foods can harm teeth when eaten in excess. Evaluate your diet and see where you might be able to incorporate healthier snacks or meals.
See your dentist every six months and whenever anything seems amiss.
Periodontal disease is a silent disease, meaning it often has very subtle symptoms. It isn’t that uncommon for patients with advanced periodontitis to not even be aware of the underlying issue with their oral health. For this reason and many others, it’s important to make biannual dental visits a priority and to book additional visits if you ever suspect a problem with your gums or teeth.
Are you due for a dental appointment or need a consultation? Book your visit with Dr. Sexton today.
Whether you’re overdue for a cleaning, experiencing symptoms of a problem, or simply have questions for Dr. Sexton, we’re here to help. To schedule your appointment with us, you can either call our office or fill out this easy online booking form.