While preventing gum disease is an important goal in dental care, learning the signs and symptoms of gingivitis is critical to correcting it in the early stages so it doesn’t progress to periodontal disease.
What are some symptoms people experience that are clues they might have gum disease?
Dr. Anthony Bielkie: Probably the most common is red, bleeding, unhealthy gums. People will also say that they have chronic bad breath, loose teeth when things are getting real severe. You’ve heard the expression of ‘long in the tooth.’ Sometimes their teeth start looking kind of long, because the gums have started to recede and so has the bone, and the teeth look longer than their neighbors or their friends. The scary things is, sometimes people don’t know at all they have gum disease until it is in a quite advanced state.
So, frequently new patients will come into the office that haven’t been to the dentist in 10 years, and they’ll tell us, “Oh, my teeth are great. I haven’t been to the dentist in 10 years. I don’t have any problems.” When we look a little closer, when we take some diagnostic X-rays, we find perhaps they’ve had a long, brewing problem that we need to now discuss.
What is the difference between gingivitis and periodontitis?
Dr. Anthony Bielkie: That’s a great question. Gingivitis is the very early stages of periodontal disease, or periodontitis. Just like -itis, tendinitis, it’s an inflammation. If we are a little less than diligent in our home care, we’re a little tired a night or two and we’re not brushing, and maybe we don’t like to floss, our gums can get red and inflamed. We’ve met people in our practice, great, great people. They go to the gym. They eat well. They do everything right. They say, “You know what? That’s normal for me. My gums have always bled like that.”
My answer to them, generally, is, “Well, then we’ve never really got your gums completely healthy, and we’re going to help you do that.” What we find is, if we can prevent people from having gingivitis, the early stage of periodontal disease, or periodontitis, we can prevent the more aggressive form of periodontal disease. If you don’t get gingivitis, you can’t lead to periodontal disease. You can’t get there without going through gingivitis. That is why we make such a big deal about gingivitis, because we know the next thing is the periodontal disease.
Is there a link between gum disease and heart disease?
Dr. Anthony Bielkie: Absolutely. We’re finding more and more links with overall inflammation and our health. We find that people in our practice that have gum disease are more prone to have heart issues. Part of that, perhaps, is a genetic makeup of that person that is giving them predispositions for certain things, but the nice thing is that we know, with diligent home care, regular professional cleanings, and a little more work, that the majority of the people can keep their teeth for the rest of their life if they’re willing to put the time and the effort into it.
It’s like a lot of things. Some people can get away without taking good care of themselves and eating healthy, and they’re still thin. Other people have to work a little bit harder with the brushing and flossing than maybe somebody else; but, with a little hard work and the help of a dental professional, no one needs to lose their teeth with the treatments and the things we have available at this time.
How is gum disease actually treated?
Dr. Anthony Bielkie: The best thing is great home care and diligent treatment at the dental office. If somebody has gum disease, and they don’t seek professional care, brushing and flossing, if the tartar is not removed, they are probably not going to be able to get to where they need to get. By the same token, if you find the greatest dentist, periodontist, in the world, but there is a lack of home motivation, a lack of brushing and flossing, a continual lack of home care, or the continual follow-up of coming every three months, every four months, every six months, depending on your particular situation, that can continue to be a problem.
So, generally, first it is patient education. We do something called a deep scaling and root planing, where we remove the tartar, floss, oral hygiene instruction, re-evaluate. At some point there has to be some periodontal surgery if the pocket depths are beyond where the patient is able to maintain. Sometimes we’ll use medicaments, but nothing is really going to replace good, old-fashioned home care: brushing, and flossing, and good nutrition.
What are the best ways to prevent getting gum disease?
Dr. Anthony Bielkie: Prevention is the huge thing there. Impeccable oral hygiene, eating well, brushing, flossing, not waiting till there becomes a problem. We went through a terrible time where a lot of people lost their insurance, and they thought that they couldn’t afford to come to the dentist. Unfortunately, there are a lot of problems that could have been treated much earlier for much less money and less aggravation. We kind of say that people that have periodontal disease are sort of like diabetics. We can treat it, we can control it, but we can’t always cure it. If you jump on the dental bandwagon, and we get you all fixed up, and then you kind of get astray and don’t keep up with the home care or the regular treatings, the problem can come back again.
So, the best thing is prevention, prevention, prevention: brushing, flossing, and great home care. We should be able to help most people keep their teeth the way they want, healthy and beautiful for the rest of their life.
If you are interested in speaking with Dr. Anthony Bielke, visit www.stoneridgedental.com or call (586) 739-6400 to schedule an appointment.