Defining Dentistry: What is periodontal disease?

By Dr. Salina Suy

healthy GUMSEditor’s note: This is another segment in a continuing series titled, “Defining Dentistry,” designed to enlighten readers on various components of dentistry.

Happy February Mohawk Valley!

I can’t believe that it’s already February and we are already one month into 2019!

The idea of February often comes with the thought of Valentine’s Day, which usually means plenty of chocolate!

Make sure you are brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing daily to keep the bugs away. Thank you for reading my column, I hope that you’re still excited to learn about different things in dentistry.

This month’s column is about periodontal disease, also known as periodontitis, or gum disease.

So what is periodontal disease?

“Perio” means around, and “dontal” refers to teeth. Periodontal diseases are infections of the structures around the teeth, which include the gums, tooth ligament and jawbone.

The earliest stage of periodontal disease — gingivitis — is an infection that affects the gums. In more severe forms of the disease, or periodontitis, all of the surrounding structures are involved.

Swollen and bleeding gums are early signs that your gums are infected with bacteria.

Some patients think it is normal for your gums to bleed when you floss or brush. However, it most certainly is not.

If nothing is done, the gum infection can spread and destroy the tissue and bone that support your teeth. In severe cases, teeth will become loose and I have actually had to extract full mouthfuls of teeth before.

How do I get periodontal disease?

Factors that can increase the risk of developing gum disease include poor oral hygiene, smoking or chewing tobacco, family genetics, crooked teeth that are hard to keep clean, pregnancy (change in hormones), diabetes, certain medications including steroids, certain types of anti-epilepsy drugs, cancer therapy drugs, some calcium channel blockers and oral contraceptives.

So how we do prevent this disease?

Regular dental hygiene is important — brushing, flossing, checking up with the dentist and watching our diet all play a role in controlling gum disease.

Think about the last cleaning visit you had with your dentist. Although dental visits vary, there are certain things that should always happen:

— You should have a complete cleaning.

— X-rays may need to be taken depending on your last set of X-rays

— A dentist must conduct the exam. If a dentist does not do it, an exam may not be billed out.  The minimum recommendation is to have a checkup and cleaning every six months, but some patients might need more.

When my patients have gum disease, I recommend they come every 3-4 months. A greater frequency of cleanings will help keep teeth healthier over time.

How do dentists monitor periodontal disease?

Have you ever been to the dentist and the dental hygienist starts saying numbers — 1-2-3, 3-3-3, 2-2-1 and so on? When you go for a cleaning, your dental hygienist or dentist should routinely be monitoring your gum health in some way. These readings are a standard of care method to do so.

What the numbers represent are the probing depths of your gums. Your dentist or hygienist is essentially taking a small tool with 1-millimeter increment measurements and determining the depths of your gums.

Healthy numbers are typically between 1-3. If the numbers exceed 3, then there maybe signs of inflammation in gums. This procedure is called periodontal charting and it should be done to monitor your gum health.

So you have gingivitis?

Gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease; it usually is associated with swollen, puffy gyms and some bleeding.

Fortunately, gingivitis is completely reversible and usually just means you need to do more work at home.

Proper oral hygiene can eliminate gingivitis completely. The first step is increasing your hygiene regimen: brushing, flossing, mouthwash, using a Waterpik®, etc. Sometimes my patients say they are doing these things, but if this is not the problem, we have to start looking at diet, family genetics and oral hygiene techniques.

How are you brushing? How are you flossing? There is a proper way to do everything. If you don’t know, ask.

So you have periodontitis?

Periodontitis is a more advanced stage of gum disease. It usually is associated with swollen and puffy gyms, bleeding, periodontal pocketing greater than 3 millimeters, and bone loss.

Unfortunately, periodontitis is not reversible, but we can stop it from progressing.

The first step is diagnosis. Once periodontal disease is diagnosed, we begin treatment with a deep cleaning.

This deep cleaning will clean up underneath your gums and rid your mouth of heavy tartar and give you a nice fresh start to getting back to good gum health.

Once this treatment is evaluated, we then maintain you with regular cleanings. If cleanings alone cannot maintain you, then we must consider other options such as gum surgery and laser therapies.

Lesson of the day: Your teeth are important but the gums are as important.

Oral hygiene and health play an important role in lung, heart and digestive health.

Smile, brush, floss and be healthy!

• Dr. Salina Suy is a health and wellness advocate and general dentist in Utica. Want to learn more? Visit Facebook @smilewithdrsuy or www.smilewithdrsuy.com.

Please follow and like us: