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No Pain, No Problem? No Excuse!

Aug 17, 2007
If you've been skipping regular dental checkups because you don't have any tooth pain, beware: you may have periodontal disease and not even feel it! Your gums and jawbone are just as important as your teeth for oral health.

What is periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease is a serious bacterial infection that attacks the gums and bones that support your teeth. If the disease is not treated, it can lead to tooth loss. According to the American Dental Hygienists' Association, 75 percent of Americans have some form of periodontal disease. Unfortunately, 50 percent of Americans do not receive regular dental care.

There are different types of periodontal disease:

1) Gingivitis: Gingivitis usually causes little or no pain. Your gums appear red or swollen, and they bleed easily. Fortunately, gingivitis can be reversed with immediate treatment at the dentist's office and consistent homecare.
2) Aggressive periodontitis: The word "aggressive" is appropriate for this type of periodontal disease, because it quickly destroys the bones and gums that attach to and support your teeth.
3) Chronic periodontitis: The most common effects of chronic periodontitis are increased tissue inflammation, receding gums, deeper pockets at the gumline, and destruction of the bone and gums that attach to and support your teeth.

One of the major reasons for periodontal disease (and the most preventable one) is the lack of proper homecare for your teeth and gums. Periodontal disease also may arise from tobacco use, stress, clenching or grinding your teeth (bruxism), diabetes, HIV/AIDS infections, malnutrition, and hormonal changes (such as during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause). No matter how it has occurred, periodontal disease requires regular dental treatments and rigorous homecare procedures.

What if your gums and teeth don't hurt?

Periodontal disease generally is painless. So even if your gums and teeth don't hurt, you should be on the lookout for signs of infection, including:

1) Gums that bleed, especially when brushing or flossing your teeth
2) Gums that are red, swollen, or unusually shiny
3) Receding gums
4) Persistent bad breath
5) Pus that appears between your teeth and gums
6) Teeth that feel loose or feel different when you bite together
7) Partial dentures that don't feel like they fit right

Are you ignoring tooth pain?

As periodontal disease escalates, you may begin to experience increasing sensitivity in your teeth and gums. Don't become a statistic of neglect! For example, in one study by the Centers for Disease Control, even if people feel pain, they don't always seek dental care. Recent tooth pain was reported by nearly 22 percent of adults; 14.5 percent were 20-64 years old, and 7 percent were over 65 years old. Within these age groups, younger and older non-Hispanic blacks, and people with lower socioeconomic status were more likely to report pain but not have dental care.

In another study, researchers at the University of Florida have reported that rural residents and people who wait until problems arise are more likely to wait too long to get dental care. In contrast, urban residents or people who prefer to take a more proactive approach to dental care are less likely to ignore tooth pain.

Whether or not you and your family members are currently experiencing any oral pain, it's important to have regular checkups. Although August is National Pain Awareness Month, you shouldn't wait for a painful emergency. The best approach is to prevent dental problems now.
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