Gum Disease: The Silent Killer
Gingivitis, “pyorrhea,” periodontitis—all words for bad germs infecting and swelling the gum tissues around the teeth—have been closely linked to major health problems including heart disease, strokes, preterm and still born births, as well as certain cancers.
What you don’t know can KILL you…
Eighty-five percent of American adults suffer from some form of gum disease, and 50 percent have moderate to severe periodontitis. Of those diagnosed, only 3 percent seek treatment, putting the rest at risk for a number of serious health issues—so the odds are that you have it … and you just don’t know it.
Take control of your health—your life—by finding out about gum infections.
Do I have gum disease?
Are your gums red or puffy? Do your gums bleed when you brush or floss? Are any teeth loose? Has anyone told you that you have bad breath? Do you wake up with a bad taste in your mouth? Blood on your pillow? These are just a few examples of what the Silent Killer may leave as a clue to its goal. Don’t have any of these clues?
You could still have gum disease! Because symptoms don’t typically appear until advanced stages, if they appear at all, most patients don’t realize they are infected with this disease.
What is gum disease?
Gum disease in an infection of the tissues and bone that support your teeth. It begins with gingivitis—red puffy gums—caused by plaque build-up. Plaque is the film found on your teeth. It is a sticky combination of germs and bacteria known as a biofilm.
If not brushed away, plaque hardens into a barnacle-like material to form calculus, commonly known as tarter. Just like lime deposits on a shower drain, the hardened calculus is difficult to remove. The biofilm will continue to grow and infect your gums, sometimes causing redness and bleeding you may or may not see.
Gingivitis will progress and become periodontitis, a much more serious form of gum disease. With periodontitis, calculus deposits expand on the surface of your teeth, edging down below your gum line.
This causes your gums to separate slightly from the teeth and supporting bone, forming periodontal pockets. The infection and the pockets may continue to deepen, eating away at the jawbone until your teeth become loose and fall out—unless you seek treatment.
Can I avoid getting gum disease?
Prevention is always the least painful and least expensive path to good health. A complete and gentle tooth and gum exam will tell if any infection is present. If there are no infections, then your gum care doctor or hygienist will suggest a plan that includes regular brushing, flossing and dental hygiene visits as your best bet for avoiding dental infections.
Since gum disease germs are easily passed on to others through saliva, dental infections can also be passed through tooth brushes, spoons and forks—anything that touches saliva! Even kissing can spread gum disease and dental infections.
Grinding your teeth or having a bite that isn’t aligned can cause irritation and invisible swelling of the tiny ligaments around the teeth, also leading to dental infections. Don’t skip your regular cleanings and make sure your dentist checks for the signs of gum infections to help catch the disease in early stages.
What if I have gum disease?
There are a variety of treatment options, all with a common goal: killing the germs, removing the infection and closing up the pockets. In the early stages, deep cleaning of all teeth in the mouth is first recommended. This treatment divides the mouth into 4 quarters, often treating one quadrant at a time. After numbing the gums, the dentist or hygienist cleans the root surfaces below the gum line of your teeth to remove calculus, smooth the root and reduce the germs on the root.
This treatment, also known as scaling and root planing, tries to stop the infection from getting worse, but it does not re-grow any lost bone or collagen to close the pocket to the root. Bacteria can still collect in the less infected spaces between the tooth and gum, allowing germs a new chance to grow and attack the collagen and bone once again.
If your early stage gum infection treatment does not work completely or the infection is moderate or severe—when many more germs are present than “slight” or “early” stages—your dentist may then recommend gum surgery. There is traditional surgery and laser surgery.
Regular or traditional periodontal surgery is “invasive” and involves the use of a scalpel to cut and “push back” the gums to take away the tops of the gum tissues, root cleaning, bone shaping, and then stitching the gums back together at a lower level. Such scalpel and suture surgery carries big risks.
Among the risks the dental surgeons must inform the patient about are the removal of so-called “hopeless” teeth, extreme post-operative pain, severe infections, exposure of the root surfaces of the teeth that can lead to extreme sensitivity of the teeth to cold, hot, spicy foods or liquids. The dentist who performs conventional surgery must also prepare the patient for the future higher risk for cavities on the roots of teeth now exposed as a result of the “push-back” surgery.
The only laser-based surgery with FDA clearance and peer-reviewed science is the LANAP® protocol. Similar to the benefits seen in arthroscopic surgeries, laser periodontal therapies are less invasive, less painful, and offer faster recovery.
How does the LANAP procedure work?
First, the LANAP protocol is a tissue preserving, regenerative and bone building procedure. No tissue is “subtracted” or gums reduced to a lower level on purpose. The LANAP procedure uses a specially designed and dedicated, pulsed Nd:YAG laser to kill the germs over a large area of the infected root, tissues, and bone.
It does this with laser light “tuned” to the bad bacteria shining through the infected areas like a flashlight shines through the back of your hand—killing germs as the laser beam penetrates and “sees” only the bad germs and infected tissue. Kill rates of disease producing germs have been reported as high as 99.9 percent in the scientific literature.
The dentist inserts a fiber optic, the thinness of three human hairs, into the infected pocket to kill germs and infected tissue. Next, calculus is removed with an ultrasonic root cleaner instead of using hand tools for scraping. Finally, laser energy is used to warm the stem cell containing blood in the pocket.
This laser warming makes the soft gum pocket tissues “sticky” and creates a seal of the tissues against the tooth root. This “jello-like” seal protects the pocket from germs, plaque and other yucky material from getting into the now cleaned and disinfected pocket to begin the healing process.
In addition to killing the germs and infection, the LANAP protocol also stimulates stem cells in the tissues to form new connective tissues, collagen and bone. This allows your body’s own healing process to build-back and regenerate the previously lost native structures–ligaments and bone–around the tooth.
Take care of your gums to take care of your health.
If you are one of the 85 percent of adults with gum disease according to U.S. Surgeon General statistics—don’t risk the health of your body by avoiding treatment of your mouth. Ask your dentist about the LANAP protocol to eliminate periodontal infection for healthier gums and a healthier body.
About the Author: Robert H. Gregg II, DDS, is an innovator of the LANAP® protocol laser treatment for gum disease; and co-founder of Millennium Dental Technologies Inc. and the non-profit Institute for Advanced Laser Dentistry.
 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - Peridontal (Gum) Disease: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments
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Topics: Tags: bad breath, bad taste, dental education, dental hygiene, dental infection, dental infections, dental laser, dental surgeon, dental technologies, department of health and human services