The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research indicates that most Americans have some form of gum disease. For many, gum disease takes the form of mild inflammation or swelling caused by bacteria and tartar on your teeth.
However, if gum disease progresses, it can become a condition known as periodontitis. Periodontitis is caused by the same bacteria and plaque, but the bacteria has spread below the gum line and into the tooth socket. This causes severe swelling around the teeth and eventual loss of gum tissue, and damage to the teeth as well as the bones and tissues that support them.
Periodontitis can also contribute to other diseases, including heart disease.
The good news is, if you develop periodontitis, there are still treatment options that can help preserve your teeth.
Treatments for Gum Disease
The most important aspect of any treatment is to reduce infection. In early stages of gum disease, antibacterial mouthwashes could be enough to treat the disease; but once the bacteria gets into the tooth socket, you need more aggressive treatments.
Scaling and Root Planing
With scaling and root planning, a periodontist or your dentist actually scrapes tartar from above and below the gum line, and removes the bacteria around the teeth. The advantage to scaling and root planing is that it removes the material that is destroying your teeth and gums. The disadvantage is that the procedure can be painful, and there is also a risk of heavy bleeding. There is also the risk that the bacteria and plaque will return. Some dentists and technicians use lasers as part of the scaling and root planing procedure, to reduce the risk of bacterial regrowth.
Antibiotic medications help kill the bacteria attacking your teeth and gums. You dentist might use some of the following antiseptic or antibiotic products alone, or as a combination treatment with scaling and root planing.
- The antiseptic chip is a tiny gel cap filled with chlorhexidine. The dentist places these tiny gels in the tooth pocket after a scaling and root planing procedure to prevent bacterial regrowth
- Antibiotic gel is similar to the antiseptic chip, and is placed in the tooth pockets after scaling and root planing
- Antibiotic microspheres perform the same function as the antibiotic gel and antiseptic chip
- Enzyme Suppressants prevent enzymes on your teeth from breaking down gum tissue. Like the antiseptic and antibiotic methods above, they are combined with scaling and root planing
Whether you get an antiseptic chip, antibiotic gel, antibiotic microspheres or enzyme suppressants depends on your dentist.
Scientists are currently looking into another drug, called Oxantel, which interferes with an enzyme that the bacteria use to adhere to the teeth. Oral antibiotics are good for small pockets of periodontitis, or as an initial treatment, before scaling and root planing.
If the infection or damage is extensive with gum disease, or if you have gum issues with recurring infections, you might need to have surgery to treat your condition.
- Gum and bone grafts use tissue from other locations on your body, or donor tissue, to help regrow the gums or bones damaged by periodontitis. Both types of grafts can also prevent tooth loss by protecting your roots, and providing a stronger anchor for your teeth.
- Flap surgery is a process whereby the dentist lifts the gums away from the teeth to clean tartar and bacteria from deep below the surface. He then sews the gums snugly around the teeth to help anchor the teeth in place. As the gums heal, they will fit more tightly around the teeth than they did before surgery, which should help prevent pockets of tartar and bacteria from collecting beneath the gums again.
Prevention of Gum Disease
Prevention is, perhaps, the best treatment and cure for gum disease. Proper dental hygiene and lifestyle factors can reduce your risk for periodontitis, including these steps:
- Use a fluoride toothpaste, and brush your teeth at least twice per day
- Use floss, or an interdental device to remove plaque between your teeth
- Rinse your mouth with an antiseptic mouthwash to help reduce the amount of bacteria in your mouth
- Get regular checkups and have your teeth professionally cleaned at least twice a year
- If you smoke, consider quitting