It’s no secret that oral health is a major factor in overall wellness. Keeping your teeth and gums healthy is the key to preventing a long list of health problems from infections in the lungs, brain, and heart to reduced immunity caused by nutritional deficiencies. While a wide range of tooth and gum problems can arise in people of all ages, periodontal disease is one of the most common and potentially dangerous. According to recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of American adults suffer from either mild, moderate, or severe periodontal disease. Among elderly people, the number surges to more than 70 percent. Additionally, about half of the children in the United States have periodontitis. Though there’s no cure for periodontal disease, ongoing treatments can help combat its effects.
What Causes Periodontal Disease?
Periodontitis, or gum disease, is an infection of the gums caused by a buildup of plaque or tartar and bacteria in the gums. Bacteria are naturally present in the mouth, and everyone faces plaque or tartar buildup at some point. If those issues aren’t taken care of properly, though, they can lead to serious infections, gum inflammation, and damage to the teeth, gums, and bones.
Several medical conditions can also contribute to periodontal disease. These include diabetes, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV and AIDS, and some types of cancer. Smoking, alcohol abuse, and some types of medications can increase the risk of gum disease as well. At the same time, many people simply have a genetic predisposition for periodontitis.
Treating Periodontal Disease
Exercising proper oral hygiene can help reduce the risk of developing periodontitis. Twice-annual dental check-ups and cleanings are also essential for preventing this condition. Still, those measures aren’t always enough to keep gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease, and advanced stages of periodontal disease at bay.
When periodontal disease develops, you’ll need more in-depth treatments to keep it under control. For most patients suffering from periodontitis, periodontal maintenance appointments are required. These typically take place every three months.
What Happens During a Periodontal Maintenance Appointment?
Gum disease develops and progresses due to buildup on the teeth and underneath the gum line. That buildup causes pockets to form in the gums where bacteria gather and multiply. Although having bacteria in the mouth is normal, plaque and tartar buildup, inflammation, and pockets in the gums create a breeding ground where microbes multiply more quickly than usual.
The goal of periodontal maintenance appointments is to control the bacteria as well as the factors that promote its rapid growth and multiplication. During a maintenance appointment, your hygienist will take certain steps to slow bacterial growth, remove buildup from the teeth, and help prevent some of the damage that periodontitis can cause over time.
- X-Rays and Dental Exams. Your dentist will most likely take x-rays of the teeth, gums, and bones and perform an exam to determine the extent of your periodontal disease and how quickly it’s progressing. This can help him or her plan current and future treatments for periodontitis.
- Thorough Cleaning above the Gum Line. In addition to x-rays and oral exams, your dentist will thoroughly clean the teeth and scale away plaque and calculus, the types of hardened buildup that develop on the teeth over time.
- Cleaning below the Gum Line. Another important step in periodontal maintenance care is cleaning below the gum line. This measure entails scaling the teeth to remove plaque and calculus that form in pockets in the gums below the surface. It also involves getting rid of bacteria that are growing below the gum line.
- Root Planing. Periodontitis can cause excessive damage to the teeth and their roots. The extra damage further allows plaque and bacteria to adhere to the surface of the teeth. Root planing smooths the roots and removes additional bacteria to slow the damage often caused by gum disease.
- Antibacterial Gel Application. After cleaning and scaling your teeth, the dentist will apply an antibacterial gel to the gums and gum pockets. This medication aids in removing any remaining bacteria and helps the gums to heal following treatments.
You may be given a local or general anesthetic to alleviate discomfort during your periodontal maintenance visits. Depending on the extent of your periodontal disease and your unique needs, additional measures may be necessary.
Understanding the Importance of Periodontal Maintenance Treatments
For patients who are suffering from periodontal disease, damage from buildup and bacteria is a significant issue. It can cause progressively receding gums, bone damage, and tooth loss among other problems. At the same time, the bacteria that are normally present in the mouth multiply more quickly in those with gum disease. They can take over and cause serious infections in as little as three months.
Having periodontal maintenance treatments performed every three months or as recommended by your dentist is essential for keeping the bacteria, plaque and calculus buildup, and other problems under control. As a result, you’ll reduce your risk of tooth loss, gum damage, bone loss, and all the other medical issues poor oral health can cause.