Understanding Gum Disease
Northern Virginia’s Premier Dental Team Focusing On Periodontal Health
As your Partners In Dental Care, Dr. Claustro and her team of dental professionals are dedicated to ensuring the long-term health of your oral cavity -- that includes the structures that hold your teeth in place. Every new adult patient entering our Ashburn, Virginia dental practice is carefully screened for risk factors that may indicate an active infection of the gums. We are surprised by how often patients report that previous dental providers have never discussed nor screened for periodontal disease which, if left untreated, can lead to bad breath, loose and shifting teeth, and even early tooth loss.
If you notice swollen and bleeding gums, foul smelling breath, or mobile teeth, call our Ashburn, Virginia Dental Team to schedule an appointment today. You may call us at 703.406.8600 or request an appointment online.
Gum Disease: Silent and Potentially Health-Threatening
Gum Disease is triggered by the colonization of your teeth and gums by various strains of bacteria in your mouth. Most adults have some form of “gum disease” ranging from Gingivitis to Severe Periodontal Disease and treatment options vary depending on diagnosis, age, systemic health, tobacco use, existing oral hygiene habits, and the skills of your dental team.
Dr. Claustro is passionate about educating her patients on the importance of dental care to not only protect you against cavities, but to also keep the underlying bone, ligaments, and gum tissue that hold your teeth in place healthy and strong. Furthermore, there is increasing evidence that poorly managed Periodontal Disease can increase your risk for life-threatening conditions such as Poorly Controlled Diabetes, Heart and Lung Diseases, Stroke, Alzheimer’s Disease, Colon Cancer, and Obesity. Pregnant women should also be concerned as Periodontal Disease has been linked to preterm birth and low birth weights (to learn more, check out Dr. Claustro’s article on Pregnancy and Oral Health).
Healthy Gums (And Bones)
In order to understand the different stages of Gum Disease, it is important to take a look at healthy gums and what purpose these underlying structures serve in our everyday lives. During your first visit with Dr. Claustro at her Ashburn, Virginia practice, she will ensure you have a basic understanding of the anatomy of your oral cavity.
One of the first questions you will be asked to ponder during your initial visit with our team is, “What holds your teeth in place?” And the answer is: Underlying bone, a system of ligaments, the roots of your teeth, and the protective gums (gingiva). In a healthy system, these structures cradle your teeth, keep them solidly in place, and help cushion against daily chewing/grinding forces (think about the suspension in your car). This is important because more severe forms of gum disease can lead to the destruction of this underlying bone and may result in tooth mobility or even tooth loss.
Clinically healthy gums appear pink, stippled (like the waxy surface of an orange peel), is free of debris (plaque, food, tarter, etc), and does not bleed. Regular brushing, flossing, and professional dental cleanings help people maintain this ideal condition.
Gingivitis is a condition triggered by the oral flora (bacteria) over-colonizing on the surfaces of your teeth and gums. As bacterial numbers overwhelm your body’s immune system, the gum tissue becomes inflamed -- leading to red and swollen gums. Gingivitis is usually painless and can range from minor redness, to severely swollen gums with heavy and sometimes spontaneous bleeding. Imagine how freaked out you would be if you randomly started bleeding anywhere else on your body!
The good news is that with Gingivitis -- even the more severe forms -- the underlying bone has not yet been effected and treatment is often accomplished in a single visit with our Hygienist and maintained with some simple changes to your oral hygiene regimen. Our Hygienists recommend brushing 2 times a day, flossing regularly, and rinsing with Listerine (or similar products) to help manage your Gingivitis between visits.
Pregnant women are especially prone to Gingivitis due to hormonal changes and an increase in blood flow throughout the body. Dr. Claustro has also noted that new parents in general are more prone to bleeding gums due to a simple decrease in time to focus on themselves once a baby enters the home -- we are here to help with that too! We encourage our patients to understand how their daily lives play a role in their oral health and we are happy to suggest simple solutions to help minimize risks.
Periodontal Disease: A Condition Not To Be Ignored
Like cavities and gingivitis, Periodontal Disease is a preventable condition that affects many adults. Sadly, Dr. Claustro has found many new patients entering her practice under-informed about the real risks of Periodontal Disease. To their knowledge, many patients have never even been screened for this chronic condition!
As the number and kinds of bacteria increases in your mouth -- hiding in the spaces in between your teeth, under your gums, and in between the tastebuds of your tongue -- they become more resistant to your body’s immune defenses and trigger a series of events that ultimately lead to the destruction of the precious bone supporting your teeth.
This bone cannot grow back on its own.
As bone is lost, pockets form under your gumline (you can’t see them) where food and tartar become trapped and bacteria flourish -- leading to even more bone loss. As these pockets become deeper and deeper, you are unable to keep these spaces clean. Neither the bristles of your tooth brush nor any length of floss can reach the depths of these pockets to remove the causative agents of this active gum infection. Bleeding worsens and pus may even be noted seeping from these pockets. A foul odor can be detected by those around you and teeth may begin to move and shift while you chew. If this infestation of bacteria remains unchecked and untreated, you are at real risk of losing teeth to severe bone loss. It is only once this severe stage is reached that most Periodontally Compromised patients notice any sort of pain.
When detected early, Dr. Claustro and her team of hygienists are able to help you treat the active Periodontal Disease and provide you with the tools and support to help you reduce your risk of relapse. Generally, once you have been diagnosed with Periodontal Disease, you will always have some levels of the associated bacteria living in your mouth. Because of this, improved home care and more frequent visits with our Hygiene team may be indicated.
At our practice, our recommendations are tailored to your individual needs and lifestyle.
If Periodontal Disease is untreated or poorly managed, additional measures may be recommended. The additional use of specific medications and antibiotics may be indicated to aid in healing after treatment. Surgical interventions may also be necessary to save your tooth. In severe cases, the tooth must be extracted and tooth replacement options are discussed. Click here to learn more about Periodontal Disease Therapy.
If you think you or a loved one is suffering from this silent disease, please give us a call at 703.406.8600 or request an appointment online for your evaluation with Dr. Claustro. Our practice is conveniently located off of Loudoun County Parkway in Ashburn, Virginia — in the Marblehead Office Park @ One Loudoun.
Frequently Asked Questions: Gum Disease
Q: How is Gum Disease Detected?
A: During your first visit with Dr. Claustro or a member of our Hygiene Team, your gums will be closely evaluated. We make note of the quantity and quality of plaque and tartar covering your teeth, notice the color and tonicity of your gums, examine dental x-rays for signs of bone loss, and physically measure the space in between your gums and teeth (periodontal probing). Periodontal probing is when the doctor or hygienist gently places an instrument in between your teeth and gums, and measures the depth of the pocket. Healthy pockets are generally 0-3mm deep and exhibit no bleeding. Bleeding with pocket depths of 4mm and above indicate disease and the appropriate type of therapy will be recommended.
Q: How do I prevent Gum Disease?
A: There are many factors that may contribute to your susceptibility to gum disease. Age, diet, ethnicity, tobacco use, overall health, oral hygiene habits, access to dental care, and genetics may all play a role in your risks. Still, simple steps can help minimize these risks and prevent the progression of early gingivitis into a more severe form of gum disease. Visit our Basic Oral Hygiene page for more information.
Brush 2x/day, more often if you tend to form plaque quickly. Electric toothbrushes may help you keep things cleaner for longer.
Floss regularly. Daily is best but 2-3x/week is better than never! Floss picks, waterpicks, another other inter-dental tools are a great alternative if flossing is difficult for you.
Listerine or similar products may help -- ask a member of our Hygiene team which product is best for you.
Visit your Dentist and Hygienist every 6-Months for prevention. If you have been diagnosed with Gum Disease a recommended recare schedule will be discussed to best meet your risks and needs.
Q: Does Smoking Increase My Risk for Developing Gum Disease?
A: Yes. Tobacco use is associated with many oral risks. Smokers tend to accumulate plaque and tartar more readily than those who do not spoke, regardless of their oral hygiene habits. This increases the bacterial load in your mouth and makes keeping the gums clean more difficult. Furthermore, smokers may have depressed immune systems and take longer to fight off infections. It is important to note that smokers tend not to exhibit bleeding with their gum disease due to the decreased vascularity -- instead of red and inflamed gums, smokers may notice pale or blue gums related to the lack of oxygen reaching the tissues of their oral cavity.