What you should know about tooth and bone loss related to gum disease

While it is no secret that taking proper care of your teeth prevents cavities and decay, most people do not recognize the serious consequences if these problems are left untreated. One such result is gum disease, an infection that can lead to tooth loss, bone loss and systemic health problems.

Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, results from a variety of reasons including genetics, smoking and other tobacco use, misaligned teeth, and poor oral hygiene. In fact, when your teeth are not properly cared for, bacteria will eat away at your teeth and gums and cause the gums to pull away from the teeth and recede. Left to its own devices, gum recession can even eat away at your jawbone.

Bone loss and related dental concerns

Bone loss is a common byproduct of untreated gum disease. As the gums pull away from the teeth, small pockets are created that are ideal habitats for bacteria and stray food particles. These bacteria then migrate to the bone and as the bone tissue wears away, tooth loss, craters and other symptoms of severe deterioration begin to occur.

Treating tooth and bone loss

The first effective step in treating bone loss is treating gum disease itself. Your dentist will start the process with a thorough visual examination and digital imaging of your mouth. Next, the infection is cleared with a minimally invasive laser procedure that removes plaque and harmful bacteria in order to restore vibrant oral health. This is a gentle procedure with minimal to no bleeding, pain or swelling. When the infection has been treated and if bone or tooth loss has occurred, your dentist might suggest replacing any missing teeth with dentures or permanent dental implants.

What about bone density and related concerns related to gum disease? The portion of the jawbone supporting our teeth is known as the alveolar process, and loss of alveolar bone is directly linked to an increase in loose teeth and tooth loss, and other dental problems as well. For example, older women with osteoporosis may have difficulty with loose or ill-fitting dentures and experience less optimal outcomes from oral surgical procedures.

Gum disease and bone health

Periodontitis (gum disease) is a chronic infection affecting the gums and bones supporting the teeth. Bacteria and the body’s own immune system break down bone and connective tissue holding teeth in place, resulting in teeth loosening, falling out, or requiring extraction.

Tooth loss is a common and oft-studied consequence of periodontitis, but the relationship between periodontitis and skeletal bone density is less clear. Some studies have found a direct relationship between bone loss, periodontitis, and tooth loss. It is also possible that loss of bone mineral density leaves bone susceptible to bacteria and increased risk of periodontitis and tooth loss.

Symptoms of gum disease

Healthy gums are firm and pale pink, nestled snuggly around your teeth. If you experience any of the following signs and symptoms, you may have periodontitis and should visit your dentist immediately:

  • Swollen or puffy gums
  • Bright red or purplish gums
  • Gums that are tender to the touch
  • Bleeding gums
  • Gums pulling away from your teeth, making teeth look longer than normal
  • New spaces between your teeth or pus between your teeth and gums
  • Bad breath
  • Loose teeth
  • Painful chewing
  • A change in your bite or misaligned teeth

Additional research is underway to fully understand the relationship between osteoporosis and oral bone loss; however, scientists believe that efforts to optimize skeletal bone density will have an equally favorable impact on dental health.

Positive steps for healthy teeth bones

To keep your teeth and bones strong, a healthy lifestyle is critical. In fact, you can make many simple but highly effective life changes to optimize bone health:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D
  • Participate in regular physical activity or exercise, including weight-bearing activities such as walking, jogging, and resistance exercises like lifting weights
  • Don’t smoke, and limit alcohol intake
  • Report any problems with loose teeth, detached or receding gums, and loose or ill-fitting dentures to your dentist

And always follow your dentist’s recommended schedule for checkups. If you notice any symptoms of periodontitis, make an appointment right away. The sooner you seek care, the better your chances of reversing the effects of gum disease.

 

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