The old adage goes, “You don’t have to take care of ALL your teeth…only the ones you want to keep.” You may also have heard, “Ignore your teeth, and they’ll go away.”
Two generations ago, it was pretty common for older adults to become resigned to the idea of losing a tooth or several teeth as they aged. Today’s older adults are younger in spirit and in lifestyle. And dentistry makes it possible to avoid tooth loss with the right care. What we now know about how periodontal disease contributes to tooth and bone loss makes it possible to be able to avoid tooth loss even into old age.
“Provided the right care happens and patients take the necessary steps to fight periodontal disease and take care of their smiles with regular dental care, we can prevent tooth loss and keep smiles healthier,” says Dr. Joe Sharkus, a dentist at First Choice Dental’s Regent Street office.
Peridontal disease is the number one cause of tooth loss.
According to the Center for Disease Control, the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Periodontology, the number one cause of tooth loss in adults is periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease is a non-curable, progressive breakdown of gum and bone tissue around the teeth. It is caused by bacteria that initiate inflammation and tissue destruction. People with gum disease can lose the bone that holds their teeth in place, causing tooth loss.
Think of your teeth and jaw bones sort of like a fence post and surrounding fence boards. If the supporting fence post is securely buried in the ground, it can effectively support the fence boards around it. But if the ground around the fence becomes loose and the fence post wobbles, it compromises the whole supporting structure of the fence. Similarly, tooth loss around the teeth and in the jaw bone, together with tissue loss around the teeth make for unsupported teeth that can eventually become loose or even fall out.
“What’s more, periodontal disease is a chronic bacterial infection that doesn’t stay confined to your mouth,” says Dr. Sharkus. “Your mouth is the window to the rest of your body. Periodontal disease compromises your immune system because it is an active infection in the body. This is alarming news for all adults, but especially those with auto-immune disorders or conditions negatively affected by infection or inflammation, like diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.” In fact, periodontal disease is linked with a number of medical conditions including coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, pancreatic cancer and also pre-term and low birth-weight infants. The connection is inflammation. A chronic infection or inflammation in one area of your body will tend to exacerbate or complicate issues in other areas of your body. In other words, you’re not healthy unless your smile is healthy.
There are different types of periodontal cases, ranging in severity. Case Type 1 is the least advanced and is called Gingivitis. Left untreated, this can progress to Case Type 2 called Early Periodontitis, followed by Moderate Periodontitis (Case Type 3) and ultimately Advanced Periodontitis (Case Type 4).
How To Fight Periodontal Disease and Keep Your Teeth
You can’t fight the enemy you don’t know about. Gum disease progresses without symptoms or pain until very advanced stages. Only your dental hygienist and your dentist can help you assess whether or not you have gum disease. To do this, they’ll use instruments to measure the depth of the pockets around your gums during your routine dental exam. Probing measures the depth of the pocket, or space between the tooth and the gum. The higher the reading, the deeper the pocket, thus the greater the loss of attachment.
In addition, your dental x-rays help your dentist and dental hygienist evaluate tooth and bone loss caused by periodontal disease as well as other dental health issues that can compromise your oral health.
Possible Treatment for Periodontal Disease
More attentive at-home care, frequent flossing and switching to an electronic toothbrush that aids brushing and helps gum health can all help keep gingivitis at bay if it’s caught early. But in most cases, if periodontal disease is detected, ongoing perio therapy is needed to avoid things getting worse.
Periodontal disease isn’t curable, but is manageable, once it’s detected. Treatment will most likely involve more frequent trips to your dental hygienist who can perform periodontal therapy using special instruments and techniques every three months. This type of cleaning allows the dental hygienist to focus on the area beneath the gums. This procedure is often called scaling and root planing and can only be achieved by a dental hygienist who’s been trained in periodontal therapy techniques and has the appropriate instruments.
“While this may sound inconvenient or uncomfortable, most of our patients tell us it’s relatively uneventful and they become accustomed to more frequent visits,” says Dr. Sharkus. “And usually patients tell us that it’s not nearly as inconvenient or uncomfortable as the permanent effects of tooth loss.
To schedule an appointment to discuss your risk of periodontal disease or for other dental care services, Request An Appointment today.
Or click here to learn more about periodontal disease.