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gingivitisPeriodontitis, or more commonly known as gum disease or periodontal disease, begins with a bacterial growth in the mouth, and if not treated promptly, can cause tooth loss due to the destruction of the tissue that surrounds the teeth.

What are the differences between gingivitis and periodontitis?

Gingivitis (which is inflammation of the gums), usually occurs before periodontitis (also known as gum disease). Please note that gingivitis does not always lead to periodontitis.

In the early stages of gingivitis, bacteria breeds and feeds off plaque build-up, ultimately causing the gums to become tender, and the gums to bleed when brushing teeth. Even though the gums are inflamed and tender, the teeth are still securely situated in their pockets. At this stage no irreversible damage has been done to the tissue or the bone.

If not treated immediately, gingivitis leads to periodontitis. Periodontitis causes the gums and bones to separate from the teeth, leaving pockets. These pockets which have formed between the teeth and the gums collect debris (food particles and mucous), causing the gums to become infected. At this stage the body’s immune system takes up the fight against the bacteria as the plaque starts to spread and grow beneath the gum line.

The poison and toxins which are produced by the bacteria in plaque, and the body’s good enzymes fighting the infection, start to destroy the bone and connective tissues. The bone and the tissues are vital in that they hold the teeth in place. As periodontitis progresses the pockets become deeper and even more gum tissue and bones are destroyed. At this point the teeth are not held in place any longer and they become loose and eventually start to fall out. Gum disease is the number 1 cause for tooth loss in adults.

What causes periodontitis?

The most common cause of gum disease is plaque. But there are a couple of other causes, some of which include:

Hormonal changes, for example pregnancy, puberty, menopause, and monthly menstruation, all make the gums more sensitive thus making it easier for gingivitis to develop.

Illnesses can also affect the gums. Illnesses such as cancer and HIV interfere with a person’s immune system. A person with diabetes has a higher risk of developing gum disease and cavities. The reason being that diabetes affects the body’s ability to use blood sugar.

Some medications also affect a person’s oral health. There are some that reduce saliva flow, and saliva plays an important part in the protection of the teeth and gums. Other medications such as anticonvulsant medication Dilantin and the anti-angina drug Procardia and Adalat have been known to cause abnormal gum tissue growths.

Smoking can impair the healing process of gum tissue.

Poor oral care such as not brushing teeth and then flossing, can make it easier for gingivitis to develop.

Family history of oral disease has also been known to play a big role in the development of gingivitis.

What are the symptoms of periodontitis?

Some of the symptoms include:

Bleeding gums while brushing and after brushing teeth
Gums that are red, tender and swollen
Bad taste in the mouth or halitosis
Gums that start to recede
Pockets that form in between the teeth and gums
Teeth that are loose
Changes in the way teeth fit together when biting, or the fit of partial dentures

How can periodontitis be prevented?

Stop smoking is pointer number one. Tobacco use is a considerable risk factor for the development of gum disease. Smokers have a seven times higher chance of developing gum disease than non-smokers. Smoking also prevents the success of some treatments. Stop stressing. Stress can make it difficult for the body’s immune system to fight off infections.

Eat healthy. Eating the correct foods help the immune system to fight of infections. Foods rich in vitamin E (vegetable oils, nuts, green leafy veggies) and foods rich in vitamin C (citrus fruits, broccoli, potatoes), helps the body to repair damaged tissue.

Do not clench or grind teeth. By grinding your teeth it puts excess force on the supporting tissues of the teeth, and could help along the process of these tissues being destroyed.

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