Stages of Gum Disease – What You Need to Know to Treat Gum Disease Before It’s Too Late

Rob hadn’t been to his dentist in about three years. He started noticing people backing off when he spoke with them, and then he noticed his own breath was rank. Listerine didn’t help. If anything, mouthwash seemed to make the problem worse.

And then even before he could get into to see his dentist, he noticed tiny but growing black ulcers along his lower gumline, areas of decay that were wider at the top and narrower at the bottom. These cone-shaped ulcers seemed to be going right down to the bone. The day Rob finally got in to see the dentist, he had such severe pain in his jaws that he asked for Vicodin.

The dentist gave him a prescription, and a referral to a dental surgeon.

Gum disease can be acute or chronic. Acute gum disease such as the necrotizing ulcerative periodontitis (NUP) Rob experienced is acute gum disease that requires immediate treatment.

You can also experience sudden symptoms of gum disease after starting a new medication, especially birth control pills, seizure medications, and treatments for various forms of rheumatoid arthritis. Blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), can cause bleeding but are not likely to cause inflammation. If gum problems crop up after you start a prescription, see your doctor about appropriate changes.

But everyday gingivitis is a slow process that goes through three predictable stages of gum disease:

  1. A plaque forms on a tooth.
  2. A plaque is a buildup of bacteria. As long as you are brushing and flossing regularly, and you don’t suffer some condition that causes dry mouth, you may have bacteria in your mouth all the time, but they don’t necessarily form plaques. Bacteria form plaques when the mouth becomes acidic. One of the favorite foods of this kind of bacteria is citric acid, which is found in citrus juices, such as orange juice.

    The kind of acidity in the saliva that encourage plaque buildup isn’t the kind of acidity that comes from eating too many protein foods. In the mouth, a kind of bacteria called Streptococcus mutans has the ability to feed about just about any kind of carbohydrate left on the teeth after a meal. The process of using these carbohydrates would be suicidal for other germs-they would dissolve themselves–but Streptococcus mutans thrives in low pH, acid enough to damage the gums.

  3. The immune system removes the area of inflamed gum tissue.
  4. immune-systemThe acid released by plaque bacteria does a little damage to the gum. The inflammatory response of the immune system to get rid of all of the bacteria and the tissues they infect does a lot of damage to the gum. The gums are gradually attacked by the immune system until they pull away from the teeth, allowing them to become loose. The more the gum pulls away from the teeth, the more tiny crevices emerge for the bacteria to colonize, and the harder it is to get rid of them with brushing, flossing, and mouthwash. This goes on for four or five days in each spot. During this time, the gums hurt.

  5. The real damage comes when the pain stops.
  6. Inflammation in the gums hurts. Decay of bone usually doesn’t (unless it is due to a fast-acting infection, such as NUP, described above). Loose teeth may point in odd directions, and the jawbone itself may be affected, so facial structure changes. The inflammatory C-reactive protein released by the infection can get into the bloodstream, increasing risk of heart attack, ischemic (blood clot) strokes, and memory loss.

The earlier you get treatment, the less severe the results. It’s always better to get gum disease treated even before it starts by starting with a dental cleaning and keeping up the benefits of treatment by brushing after every meal, keeping the mouth moist, and flossing every day.