Nearly 50 percent of people in the United States suffer from gum disease, which, if left untreated, can lead to certain conditions that require gum surgery from a specialist like Dr. Wendy Willoughby, DDS at Chestnut Family Dentistry in Asheville, NC. How do you know when you need this type of procedure? The best way to know for sure is to visit a dentist, but until then, there are some conditions to look for.
When Should You Consider Getting Gum Surgery?
Gingivitis is the mildest form of periodontal (gum) disease and is the precursor to requiring surgery, if left untreated or not treated successfully. With gingivitis, your teeth are stable, but your gums are probably irritated, puffy, and will occasionally bleed when brushing, flossing, or even eating. What is happening with this early form of periodontal disease is that bacteria is breaking down the healthy connection between the gums and teeth, which can lead to more serious forms of periodontal disease.
You do not need surgery if you have gingivitis, as this mild form of gum disease can be treated with improved at-home hygiene practices. Brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day will eradicate the bacteria causing gingivitis. Your gums will no longer be swollen, bleed, or hurt once you adopt a healthy oral hygiene routine. If you catch gingivitis early, the solution is easy and you will not need surgery.
The next most severe type of periodontal disease is periodontitis, which is when an infection has occurred in your gums and requires professional treatment to resolve. Your teeth may be loose at this stage, but it still does not require surgery. While periodontitis will not resolve on its own or with an improved oral hygiene routine, it can be eradicated with a deep professional cleaning that includes scaling and root planing below the gum line.
In some cases, even scaling and root planing will not be able to reach the infection because it is too advanced and far below the gum line. This is the first indication that you should consider surgery on your gums. If neither your home hygiene routine nor a professional cleaning is resolving the issue, you’ll probably need gum flap surgery. This procedure involves making an incision along your gum line so the lower parts of your teeth can be exposed.
At this point, the dentist will scale and root plane your teeth just as they would do during a deep cleaning, but because they’re able to access more of your teeth, they can effectively eliminate the infection. When finished, your dentist will close the incision with stitches, and you’ll be placed on a schedule that will require more cleanings than typical patients have. Without this treatment, you will be at risk for gum recession and tooth loss.
When the early forms of periodontal disease are left untreated, they can cause gum recession, which is where the gum tissue pulls away from the teeth, leaving a gap and exposing the roots of the teeth. This gap allows even more bacteria to accumulate, which then causes further gum recession. Eventually, the roots will decay and become painful because there is no protective enamel covering over them like there is over teeth.
Unfortunately, any gum tissue that has been lost through gum recession will never grow back, so you’ll likely need gum graft surgery. This is a procedure that requires your dentist to remove tissue from elsewhere in your mouth or from a tissue bank and placed over the gums that have receded. There is also a minimally-invasive procedure available through some dentists called the Chao Pinhole technique that eliminates the need for an incision and requires less down time.
Tooth or Bone Loss
At the very extreme end of periodontal disease is tooth or bone loss. When the gums recede too far, the teeth become loose and eventually fall out. Then, in the space where the tooth was, the bone that was surrounding the tooth will erode even further. As the bone continues to erode, as it will do as long as there is a space there, your face will begin to sag and you’ll start looking older than you are.
The only way to halt bone loss if you’ve lost a tooth is to get a dental implant. However, before an implant can be placed, you’ll need to have bone graft surgery to build up the bone where the tooth was to give the implant will have a healthy anchor point. Bone taken from your jaw or hip, or from a donor is placed on top of the existing bone under the gums, allowing it to fuse together over time.
You should not worry about getting gum surgery until you’ve seen a dentist and received a diagnosis that requires surgery. In most cases, dentists are conservative with treatment and will attempt to treat your condition with minimally invasive procedures, such as deep cleaning, first. However, if you’re experiencing gum recession and tooth loss, your dentist may recommend surgery right away. In any case, making an appointment with your dentist is the first step.
If you’re experiencing swollen, bleeding, or painful gums, the next step is to see a dentist who is experienced in gum disease and treatment. While you may not need surgery yet, you still need to get your condition under control. Contact Chestnut Family Dentistry in Asheville, NC to make your initial appointment and Dr. Wendy Willoughby, DDS will explain your options for healing your gums.