Gum disease is like Red Ants

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I live in the south where we have mounds of red ants. They never seem to go away. They live in large piles of red clay mounds. No one knows how deep their nests are but we try to get rid of them.

No Way do we get rid of them all- ever. They only… move to another spot!

This makes me think of Periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is one that affects the teeth, gums and bones that surround the teeth. It comes in various forms from Gingivitis (mild) to wild and uncontrollable – Refractory periodontal disease.

They both are an overgrowth of bugs that when they are small, can be controlled with minimal effort. In larger amounts, they can spread throughout a large area and you can only control the numbers, you will never be able to eliminate them completely.

So, why is gum disease so aggressive? Genetics can play a role in it. Families can pass gum disease from one member to another from their genes or from saliva transfer. Some strains of bacteria are stronger than others.

We see this with some people who brush and floss constantly and still have issues. We see people who put minimal effort into their routine and they have no issues. Everyone is different. Different routines and risk factors cause people to be frustrated or delighted depending upon which end of the fence you are on.

To treat gum disease is a constant effort, much like getting rid of the red ants. Bacterial decontamination can certainly knock out a good bit of bugs but you will never be able to completely eliminate all the bugs causing the disease. This procedure is known as scaling and root planing.

Periodontal disease is episodic and site specific. A good dental team with a hygienist who not only probes for disease but actually measures and records the numbers will give you a good starting point.

The numbers of the probing can measure anywhere between 0-11 millimeters. Zero, one and twos are great. That means your toothbrush and floss can get into those areas. Threes are good, and if they are not bleeding, this is also a sign of health. Anything over a 4 mm means you cannot reach it yourself. Think of the ants at the base of their nest – you cannot get there without physically removing the mound.

This is where you need professional help. The bugs will repopulate every 90 days so it is important for some to remain on a stricter maintenance bacterial decontamination (i.e. more frequent professional cleanings).

There are more aggressive ways of treating gum disease than just cleanings, such as periodontal surgery but we will save that for another time.

There are many other methods of oral hygiene that may be a good addition to traditional string floss such as toothpicks, rinses, water picks, hydroflosses, proxabrushes, etc. NONE of these will get deeper than 2 millimeters. Only a professional can reach in these areas with specialized instruments who know the anatomy of the root structure can help you.

In conclusion—- get to know your numbers, take hold of it. Periodontal disease rarely hurts so it is important to have professional exams to let you what your risk levels are.