People should visit a dentist for regular check-ups every six months, dental health experts say.
The reasoning is that most patients cannot detect gum disease unless a professional points it out, said Sandy Krise, a dental hygienist at Dr. Jefferson Porter's practice at 329 Maynard St.
Gum disease is similar to hypertension in that a person can be hypertensive and not realize it until diagnosed, Dr. Jeff Porter said.
Dr. Jeff Porter gives office manager Deb Porter a thorough teeth and gum exam. He recommends that adults and children see a dentist every six months to be sure their teeth and gums are healthy. Gingivitis and other gum diseases actually can affect the overall health of the rest of the body.
Gum disease is the breakdown of the soft tissue that supports teeth. The earliest form of gum disease is gingivitis, which is inflammation of the gums. The inflammation is caused by plaque, which is caused by natural bacteria's acid secretion that grows on teeth.
The most common type of gingivitis is chronic. It is a long-term inflammation.
"You have inflammation going on; you're just not aware of it," Porter said. "What you're looking for is puffiness and bleeding or tenderness. It can be hard to detect if you're the patient."
Acute gingivitis is inflammation in a small part of the gums.
"If you're not aware and it's not treated, the disease will gradually worsen," Porter said.
If inflammation is allowed to continue, it will destroy the anchorage of the gum that holds the tooth in place. Eventually, the tooth could fall out or become abscessed. An abscess occurs when pus becomes enclosed in the tissues of the jawbone by the infected tooth.
"It's more common in adults," Porter said. "It's rare in younger people."
However, gum disease can be controlled with home care, Krise said.
"The patient has a big play in this, in terms of helping him or herself," Porter said.
Not many diseases allow opportunities for the patient to control the treatment.
"The opportunity is there," he said.
The best treatment is to remove the plaque routinely, he said.
Patient education also helps, Krise said. Patients might know what they have to do to stop gum disease and why they should do it, but they might not know how to stop it.
"I tell patients that plaque loves hollow," Porter said.
Because plaque often hides in hollow places, such as cavities, that is where oral attention can be focused to help fight gum disease. Porter tells patients where the hollows are likely to be so they can be successful with cleaning.
Poor oral health can result in poor overall health, Porter said.
An oral cavity has the greatest concentration of germs, excluding the lower end of the digestive tract.
"If you're not cleaning that out, inevitably germs will make it into the bloodstream," he said.
"(Our bodies) need our help to keep the volume of our germs out," Porter said. "Some bacteria - and the right kind of bacteria - is a good thing. It's a matter of degree. You want a fairly low amount and you want to keep it low."