Periodontal disease, commonly called gum disease, is a serious dental health concern that left untreated can lead to tooth loss. Caused by tartar, gum disease is a common concern that can be avoided with proper dental hygiene.
Tartar is a hardened form of plaque that is difficult to remove and harbors harmful bacteria. A sticky film, plaque is mainly made of bacteria and it forms on the teeth when sugars and starches in foods interact with the normal bacteria in the mouth. Brushing the teeth removes plaque, but the substance quickly reforms, usually within one day.
When plaque is not removed from the teeth for more than two or three days, it hardens into tartar under the gum line. Also known as calculus, tartar cannot be removed by just flossing or brushing. A professional cleaning is needed to remove the build-up and the bacteria it harbors.
Plaque and tartar increasingly damage the teeth and gums the longer they are ignored. At first, the presence of these substances may inflame and irritate the gums at the base of the teeth. This condition is called gingivitis, the most mild type of periodontal disease. People with gingivitis may also experience bleeding at the gums, gum recession, bad breath, tender gums or gums that change colour from pink to dusky red.
Gingivitis can often be easily treated. Seeing a dentist is important when the initial signs of gingivitis are present because treatment is necessary to prevent progression to a more serious form of gum disease.
Left untreated, gingivitis can lead to periodontitis. This more advanced form of gum disease destroys the bone and soft tissue that support the teeth. In addition to causing potential tooth loss, the disease also carries an increased risk of stroke, heart attack and other serious health concerns.
Luckily, tartar build-up and gum disease are largely preventable. The best way to avoid gum disease is to practice good oral hygiene throughout life. This means brushing the teeth at least twice daily and flossing each day. Brushing after each snack or meal can further limit the accumulation of plaque and tartar.
Toothpastes that contain fluoride are most effective for removing plaque and preventing the formation of tartar. A toothbrush with soft bristles can thoroughly clean the teeth without irritating or injuring the gums and should be replaced every three months. A worn toothbrush does little to clean the teeth and can actually injure the gums.
One’s diet can also be a factor in the development of periodontal disease. Foods that are high in sugar should be avoided, but the consumption of dairy products can actually reduce plaque and tartar in the mouth. Not only are dairy products high in vitamin D, a nutrient essential for bone and tooth health, but they also ward off decay because of their high calcium content.
Regular dental exams are the last component of maintaining tooth and gum health. Professional cleanings should be scheduled every six months to remove plaque and tartar that is missed by brushing and flossing.