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Understanding gingivitis and Periodontal Disease

Gingivitis : You've heard the terms on television ads, seen them in print ads, and noticed them on the labels of an assortment of dental products. What do terms like gingivitis, plaque, tartar, and periodontal disease really mean?

Doctors and dentists speaking "doctor talk" often forget that the rest of us do not. Advertising companies also like to use these terms because it makes their products sound more scientific and more effective. Let's find out what they are talking about.

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Our mouth is full of bacteria. In fact, our entire body is covered with bacteria! These organisms are so small that it takes a microscope to see them. In a healthy mouth there is a natural balance of different bacterial species. This natural balance keeps any one species of bacteria from becoming too strong or out of balance so as to dominate. When any one group or family of bacteria begin to dominate their levels of toxins increase to a point where they stimulate the immune system and cause an infection.

Brushing and flossing remove bacteria from the mouth preventing them from overgrowing. You can never completely get rid of all the bacteria in your mouth but brushing and flossing make sure the number of bacteria you do have is in a safe range. A common mistake many people make is to brush but not floss. This allows bacteria to build up to dangerous levels between the teeth where brushing alone can not reach.

Plaque is simply a sticky yellowish-white film composed of bacteria, small particles, proteins, and mucus. This plaque continuously accumulates on the teeth and gums.

With proper brushing and flossing plaque is easily removed. If plaque is not removed by brushing and flossing, over time, plaque will calcify (harden).

This hardened plaque is known as tartar and can no longer be removed with simple brushing and flossing. It must be removed by a dentist.

The problem with plaque and tartar is that the longer they are left on the teeth and gums, the more harmful the bacteria in the plaque and tartar become. These harmful bacteria begin to dominate. Many of these more nasty bacteria are anaerobes meaning that oxygen will kill them. How do they survive in the mouth?

They survive in the inner parts of the plaque where oxygen can not reach them. In addition, large clumps of bacterial plaque at the gum line will prevent oxygen from reaching areas under the gum line. These oxygen poor regions are fertile environments for the more hostile anaerobic bacteria.

The more harmful bacteria release toxins which damage the gums. They also cause gum infection and inflammation which activates the immune system. This inflammation of the gums is called gingivitis and is the first stage of gum disease.

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To prevent gingivitis all you need to do is keep the bacterial populations in balance by flossing, brushing, and rinsing with an anti-microbial rinse which removes excess bacteria. Proper home dental care can remove plaque. Professional cleanings during routine dental visits remove tartar which harbors and nurtures the proliferation of the undesirable bacteria.

If left unchecked, however, gingivitis may progress to periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is primarily caused by a "silent" and "painless" bacterial infection of the bone and ligaments which hold the teeth in place.

Periodontal disease will cause bone to erode and teeth to progressively loosen to a point where normal chewing causes them to fall out !

In periodontal disease the inflamed gums will pull away from the teeth. Normally there is a small 1-3 mm space between your gums and teeth. This space is known as the periodontal pocket. In periodontal disease, this space becomes much deeper. A dentist can check the width of this space with a probe and thereby tell you if you have periodontal disease.

Other signs of periodontal disease include:

  • Bad breath
  • Red or swollen gums
  • Loose teeth
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Pus coming from around the teeth
  • Pain on chewing
  • Tender gums
  • Bleeding gums.

Treatment of periodontal disease sometimes requires surgery. The best advice that we can give is for people to prevent periodontal disease by brushing and flossing to remove plaque and seeing a dentist regularly (every six months) to remove any tartar that might build up. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Do You Know What Causes Morning Breath ?

Decreased saliva production, which occurs while we sleep, causes morning breath. You see bacteria on the teeth break down food particles producing sulfur compounds in the process. It is these sulfur compounds which give breath its foul odor. Normally saliva helps by washing away bacteria, washing away food particles, and by dissolving these smelly sulfur compounds. During sleep, however, saliva flow decreases significantly resulting in smelly morning breath.

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