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Advances in dental technology have introduced new ways to diagnose and treat dental problems. One of the most common dental problems is gum disease, a condition that can cause discomfort and even lead to the loss of one or more teeth. Fortunately, saliva testing is highly accurate at detecting gum disease.
Gum disease is a common problem. In fact, more than 47 percent of American adults over the age of 30 have some form of gum disease, also known as periodontal disease. The risk of gum disease rises with age, with more than 70 percent of adults over the age of 65 having some form of the disease.
Gum disease is progressive, so it worsens over time, especially without treatment. The early stage of gum disease is gingivitis, which affects only the soft tissue of the gums. Gingivitis affects only the soft tissue of the gums to cause minor symptoms – in fact, many patients with this early form of gum disease may not experience any symptoms at all, so they may have no idea that they have gum disease.
When they do appear, symptoms of gingivitis include:
- Swollen gums
- Bleeding gums
- Bad breath
- A metallic taste in the mouth
- Receding gums
- Increasing spaces between the teeth
Left untreated, gingivitis can develop into periodontitis, which is a more severe form of gum disease. Unlike gingivitis that affects only gum tissue, periodontitis can also damage the bone tissue that holds teeth in the jawbone.
The role of bacteria in the development of gingivitis
At least 6 billion bacteria of more than 700 different species live in the human mouth. Some of these bacteria promote health, while others can provoke disease. There is a delicate balance between the “good” and the “bad” bacteria; tipping that balance can make the mouth more susceptible to tooth decay, tooth loss, and gum disease.
Gingivitis develops as the result of “bad” bacteria accumulating in the mouth, especially around and below the gum line. The accumulation of certain bacteria triggers an immune response, including inflammation in the gums. When bacteria remain on teeth long enough, they form a film known as plaque, which is a clear film that sticks to teeth. Plaque can harden into tartar that can spread below the gum line in a way that makes teeth harder to clean.
There is a strong association between gum disease and specific types of bacteria that live in the mouth, and are present in the saliva. Saliva tests screen saliva for the presence of disease-causing bacteria.
Saliva tests are easy – the patient simply swishes a saline solution around in their mouth and spit it into a tube. The saliva in the tube then undergoes testing for the presence of bacteria. Some saliva tests also look for the genetic variation that makes some people more vulnerable to gum disease.
Saliva is readily available and easy to collect. Since it is non-invasive and pain-free, patients are comfortable performing a saliva test.
Saliva performs many important functions in the mouth. It helps us swallow and breathe by lubricating the tissue of the mouth, for example. Enzymes in saliva begin the process of digesting food, and even helps protect the teeth from unhealthy bacteria.
Saliva testing is a highly accurate way to detect saliva
Dental professionals are now using saliva testing to detect a number of oral health issues, including gum disease.
The results of a 2021 study show that some types of saliva testing can detect periodontal disease in 70 to 80 percent accurate of people in the general population.
Early Detection of Gum Disease is Essential for a Good Outcome
Like many other conditions, gum disease is easiest to treat in its earliest stages, before significant gum damage has occurred. Saliva testing can help dentists detect gum disease early, and begin treatment right away.
Treatment for gum disease
Treatment for gum disease depends on how far the condition has progressed. Treatment for gingivitis includes a professional cleaning and oral rinses that keep the mouth clean, along with brushing and flossing. Patients can usually manage gingivitis with home care, according to the recommendations of their dentists.
Periodontitis treatment involves surgical and non-surgical techniques to restore the health of gums and tissues, and to prevent tooth loss. These techniques include scaling and root planing that provide a deep cleaning to the affected gums. Dentists may recommend surgical treatments, such as flap surgery, soft tissue grafts, and bone grafting.
Clearly, detecting gum disease early with saliva testing can help patients avoid intensive treatments or tooth loss. Saliva testing is also fast, easy and accurate.
For more information about saliva testing for gum disease, consult with Westerville Dental Associates. Our team of dentists is glad to answer your questions about this state-of-the-art diagnostic test that could help you keep your smile looking its best by detecting gum disease early, while it is still most responsive to treatment.