Before we dive into what to do about periodontitis, let's talk about what it is and why your clinicians spend so much time talking about it. Periodontitis (also known as "gum disease") is a disease in, well, your gums where an active infection is damaging the gum and bone tissue below your gum line.
Unfortunately once your gum and bone are damaged, that damage is irreversible. That's why it's recommended to take steps as soon as possible to stop periodontitis to prevent further damage.
Periodontitis is diagnosed by measuring your gum pocket depths ( a chart measuring how far below your gum line your gum tissue connects to your tooth), along with an examination of your x-rays and gum inflammation.
Reverse periodontal disease with periodontal therapy
To prevent more damage to your bone and gums periodontal therapy is one of the most common approaches to stop the infection in its tracks. That's because it is (a) effective, and (b) nonsurgical. There are also surgical treatment options but these are only recommended for severe cases that need to be treated by a specialist.
If your periodontal disease is mild to moderate your dentist will recommend periodontal therapy. Periodontal therapy sessions can take up to 90 minutes, and depending on many teeth are affected you may require multiple sessions to complete the therapy.
Your clinician to will use a special instrument to remove tartar, plaque, and bacteria from your tooth surface as well as beneath your gum line beyond where traditional hygiene instruments can reach.
Once your periodontal therapy is completed your dentist will determine if the infection has been stopped. If the infection is no longer active that means your health is in a stable state and you can maintain your health with routine cleanings.
"Successfully completing periodontal therapy is an important first step," explains Wally hygienist, Sarah Clark, RDH. "However it's important to remember that once you have periodontitis, you have it for life. The goal is to keep it under control and prevent infection from recurring. This is critical for your oral health in the short- and long-term."
Reverse gingivitis in 5 easy steps
If your gum disease is in the early stages you might have what is clinically called, "gingivitis." With gingivitis your gums might be red, puffy, or bleed. But sometimes gingivitis isn't painful and you may not realize you have any issues. That's why 75% of Americans develop gingivitis at least once during their life.
While it sucks to have any form of gum disease, the good news is that gingivitis is actually reversible … if you catch it early. Your gingivitis will turn into more severe (and irreversible) gum disease if left untreated.
Reversing gingivitis is doable. It just takes conviction and the right tools. If you have gingivitis here is what you can do to reverse it and get your gums back to health:
- Get an exam from your dentist to determine the extent of your gingivitis
- Get a professional cleaning with your hygienist
- Revamp your oral hygiene routine to use the right products and techniques that your mouth needs
- Stick with your at home hygiene routine (yes, flossing daily sucks, but keep with it!)
- Go to all your routine cleaning appointments
If you've had gingivitis in the past or have risk factors that increase your chances of developing gingivitis (e.g. being pregnant), you may want to get more than two cleanings each year to keep the bacteria at bay and your gums healthy.
Listerine gum therapy, and other gum products - can they stop gum disease?
The short answer is … no. While over-the-counter products like toothpaste and mouthwash can help resolve gingivitis, they won't be able to reverse periodontitis. That's because the infection that is affecting your gums is so far below the gum line that your normal hygiene products simply can't reach it.
The mouthwashes that are marketed toward gum health are often the same mouthwashes targeted toward bad breath. The difference is usually just the packaging since the ingredients are the same.
And what about toothpastes? Toothpastes that are "gum healthy" add antibacterial ingredients whose job is to kill the bacteria that can cause gum disease. If look at a tube of Parodontax or Crest Gum Detoxify, you'll find an active ingredient called stannous fluoride. Stanous fluoride is helps kill the bacteria that's found in plaque. Several studies have shown toothpastes with stannous fluoride are better at reducing plaque build-up and gingivitis than sodium fluoride toothpastes.
"Stannous is nothing new, in fact it's been around for years and can help decrease bacteria in the mouth," shares Sarah. "Unfortunately these products won't be able to help you once you develop a mild form of gum disease. A professional cleaning or periodontal therapy is the only way to truly stop gum disease from progressing."
The right at-home products combined with proper brushing and flossing techniques are great for maintaining your gum health between visits to the dentist.
Gum regeneration doesn't happen naturally
Sadly, gum tissue doesn't regenerate. Once gum tissue is gone, it's gone for good. As gum disease progresses gum tissue is killed off. If you've lost gum tissue there are no "natural" ways to regenerate or grow that tissue back.
If you need to replace gum tissue, gingival or gum grafting is one of your best options. When you get a gum graft, a small amount of new gum tissue is placed where you need more gum tissue, like over exposed roots.
Here are the three most common types of gum grafts:
- Connective-tissue grafts. This is the most common type of gum graft. Your clinician will cut a flap of skin from the palate, or roof of your mouth, and from under the flap remove "subepithelial connective tissue." This tissue is then stitched to the gum tissue surrounding the area where more gum is needed. Afterward, the flap on your palette is stitched back down.
- Free gingival grafts. Like the connective-tissue graft, free gingival grafts use tissue from your palette. But instead of cutting a flap and removing tissue, a small amount of tissue is removed directly from the roof of the mouth and then attached to the gums. This method is used most often in people who have thin gums to begin with and need additional tissue.
- Pedicle grafts. Tissue is grafted from gum around or near the surgical area. A flap (aka a pedicle) is cut so that one edge remains attached. Then the loose tissue is pulled down to cover the exposed area and sewn into place. This procedure can only be done in people who have plenty of gum tissue near the area that needs gum tissue.
If gum grafting is right for you, your clinician will chat with you about the benefits and the right approach.
Periodontal cleaning that won't break the bank
You're pumped and ready to address that infection. If you've chatted with a traditional dentist about periodontal therapy you probably found out that it's CRAZY expensive. That's because insurance has ballooned the prices of pretty much all dental care.
At Wally, we operate outside of insurance so we can provide periodontal therapy (and pretty much everything else) for fair prices.
After you complete your periodontal therapy we make it insanely easy to keep your mouth healthy with unlimited cleanings. That's right. Rather than put you on the never-ending cycle of periodontal therapy every year, we figure out how to keep you healthy. Pretty cool what happens when you say "goodbye" to insurance.
Check if our membership is right for you. Our first studio is OPEN - we hope to see you there.