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Preventing and Treating Gum Problems

Healthy teeth depend on healthy gums. Gums protect the base of the teeth, where connective tissue anchors them to bone. Left untreated, gum problems can lead to tooth loss. Fortunately, theres plenty you can do to keep gums healthy.

2 Types of Gum Disease

Gum disease takes two forms: gingivitis and periodontitis.

Gingivitis occurs when bacteria collect in tiny pockets at the gum line, causing inflammation. The most common symptoms are bleeding when teeth are brushed and persistent bad breath. Gingivitis accounts for about 70% of gum disease. Periodontitis makes up the other 30%.

If gingivitis goes untreated, the inflammation can invade connective tissue and even bone. This causes periodontitis.

Symptoms of periodontitis include:

  • Receding gums
  • Visible pockets of inflammation along the gum line
  • Gum pain
  • Unusual sensitivity to temperature changes.

Eventually, even the healthiest teeth can become loose and even fall out.

The Role of Dental Exams in Preventing Gum Disease

Unfortunately, by the time most people notice any of the warning signs of periodontitis, its too late to reverse the damage, says Sam Low, DDS, professor of periodontology at the University of Florida and president of the American Academy of Periodontology.

Thats why regular dental checkups are so important, according to Low. Dentists spot trouble in the form of pockets of inflammation or places where gum tissue has eroded slightly, exposing the root of the tooth.

  • With regular checkups, the condition of your gum tissue can be compared over time. Any erosion that has taken place is noted. Dental X-rays can reveal early signs of gum disease.
  • During the exam, the dentist carefully measures the depth of gum pockets around a selected number of teeth. This exam should be repeated every 18 to 36 months, according to Low.

Unfortunately, not all dentists check carefully enough for gum disease.

We estimate that only about one-third of general dentists really take the time to really look for gum disease, says Low.

The American Academy of Periodontology works closely with professional dental groups to encourage better detection of gum problems during dental checkups.

Catching signs of gum disease early may be far more important than previously thought, experts say. Advanced periodontal disease can cause tooth loss. But it may also cause other health problems.

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