What is Gum Disease?

Because October is National Dental Hygiene Month, we are covering topics related to dental hygiene in our blog. Dental hygiene encompasses two separate realms: one in which you clean your teeth effectively at home, and the other in which you consistently see dental professionals for professional teeth cleanings and maintenance.  If a person is lacking in either of these two categories, he or she is at risk for gum disease. 

What is Gum Disease?

Gum disease is a bacterial infection of the hard and soft tissues surrounding the teeth.  It begins as gingivitis, which is inflammation of the gums.  The inflammation is the body’s response to toxins produced by the bacteria living in dental plaque.  As plaque collects on the teeth, the amount of bacteria increases, as does the amount of toxins penetrating the surrounding gum tissue.  The initial response is acute inflammation, which causes redness, swelling, tenderness, and bleeding in the gums.  Gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease.

When there is no intervention to remove the bacteria and stop the disease, the inflammation transitions from acute to chronic.  While acute inflammation is helpful to alert you that there is a problem, chronic inflammation is destructive in nature.  In gum disease, the chronic inflammatory response to bacterial toxins results in destruction of the attachment between the tooth and supporting structures. 

What Does Dental Hygiene Have to Do with Gum Disease?

The primary cause of gum disease is always dental plaque.  Plaque buildup is the source of the bacterial toxins that start the whole process.  When plaque remains on the teeth for more than twenty-four hours, it changes consistency.  It begins to harden into a mineralized substance known as tartar or calculus.  This distinction is important because you can remove dental plaque on your own; you cannot remove tartar on your own.  This explains why both realms of dental hygiene (at home and professional) are essential to fighting gum disease.

Your home care should include techniques that effectively remove dental plaque.  That is the whole purpose of brushing and flossing the teeth, after all!  A home dental hygiene routine must be consistent to be effective.  The specifics may vary from person to person, but in general, most people need to brush their teeth twice a day and floss every night before bed.  You may also need to include using an antiseptic mouthwash or additional “tools” as part of your dental hygiene routine. 

With both brushing and flossing, the technique you use is important.  Sadly, it is possible to brush and floss consistently and not remove dental plaque if you use the wrong technique.

Your professional care includes the removal of all bacterial buildup, both hard and soft, from the teeth and gums.  Because no one always perfectly cleans his or her teeth, there is typically some hard tartar buildup present in areas that person “misses” at home.  There may also be areas that are hard-to-reach or difficult to clean.  The dental hygienist is the expert at identifying these areas and educating each patient in how to clean them.  One of the most important aspects of a dental hygiene visit is learning how to improve your home care.

Why Does Gum Disease Matter?

Gum disease is dangerous in two ways.  It is an infectious disease with a proliferation of bacteria that can travel from your mouth to other areas of the body.  Research studies have found the bacteria associated with gum disease in clogged arteries and brain plaques.

It is also a disease of chronic inflammation.  Science is still advancing in the studies of chronic inflammation and how it affects the human body.  One thing these studies all agree on is that chronic inflammation is NOT good for you.  Some of the implications of current research is that a body suffering from chronic inflammation is at a higher risk for various diseases, including cancer.

Just in case you need another reason to take gum disease seriously, here is one that is social rather than health-related.  Gum disease gives you bad breath.  If you do not worry about plaque removal for your own sake, please worry about it for the sake of those in close contact with you.  🙂

More Questions about Gum Disease and Dental Hygiene?

Call Prosper Family Dentistry at 972-347-1145 to schedule a visit with one of our awesome dental hygienists.  We can answer any question you have about dental hygiene and your personal areas of risk.

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