What does that mean?
Think of each of your teeth like individual trees. Each one has a large trunk and many branches, consider this to be the crown of your tooth, the white part that sticks out above your gum line. A tree also has an extensive root system below the ground. Think of this as as the root or roots of your teeth. What happens to the tree when the root system is washed out? The whole system is weakened and a windstorm could knock it over, and the tree dies.
A tooth can have the same fate of the tree when its root system goes bad.
How does the root system go bad?
We have all been told by our dentists that we need to wash twice a day and to floss. This is a great strategy to prevent cavities and gum disease (Gingivitis). If you are not able to keep the root system clean then bad bacteria and plaque, in this case the water that washes out the tree root system, builds up and begin to really irritate our gums. When your gums are irritated, they slowly begin to pull away from the top of the tooth. It is usually a painless process, but you may notice that your gums are really red and you may see some bleeding when you brush or floss1. The redness, bleeding, and inflammation are the signs of the gum disease.
If that same root system is never cleaned, that plaque or tartar slowly begins to harder onto the tooth root making it even harder for you to get off and reaching further down into the root system. As this process continues, the hardened plaque is now termed calculus. When you get your cleanings, it may feel and sound like the Hygienist is scraping your enamel off, but it’s actually the sound of hard calculus being removed.
As this silent, painless process continues the original inflammation (gingivitis) can lead to bone loss around the tooth (periodontitis). Remember, the gum tissue does not like the plaque and bacteria building up on the tooth surface. So if the gum tissue continues to pull away from the tooth and reaches the height of bone, the bone will also do the same. Use your imagination to figure out what will happen to your teeth if this bone loss continues without intervention.
Who is at risk of gum disease? Think of anything that is bad for your teeth, or your health for that matter, and those things are risk factors for gum disease. Not brushing or flossing regularly of course will set you back. Dry mouth, smoking, diabetes, poor dietary habits, can all set you up for gum disease2,3. It is wise to seek out your dentist every six months and make sure you do not have gum disease, and to take cautionary steps to prevent it if you are at risk.
Here is what the progression of Gum Disease looks like on radiographs: First we have a healthy set of teeth, no calculus present and no bone loss. The second image shows us that hardened plaque (calculus) and you may notice the bone has receded down the root some. The third image we can clearly see evident bone loss, wouldn’t take much effort for those teeth to be removed.
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