What is gum disease?
Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is an infection of the gums caused by bacteria in dental plaque. It starts with inflammation of the gums, called gingivitis, and if left untreated, can progress to periodontitis, which affects the tissues supporting the teeth. Most people suffer from some form of gum disease. It can lead to bleeding gums, gum recession, loose tooth, and it is the major cause of tooth loss in adults. The good news is that the disease develops very slowly in most people, and you can prevent it, slow it down or completely stop it.
What causes gum disease?
Gum disease is nearly always caused by the accumulation of plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that forms on the teeth and gumline. When plaque is not adequately removed through regular brushing and flossing, it can harden into calculus, which further irritates the gums and leads to inflammation. Other factors that contribute to gum disease include poor oral hygiene, smoking, hormonal changes, certain medications, and genetic predisposition.
What are the symptoms of gum disease?
Recognising the signs of gum disease is crucial for early detection and prompt treatment. Here are some common symptoms to watch out for:
- Red, swollen, or tender gums.
- Bleeding gums, especially during brushing or flossing.
- Receding gums, making the teeth appear longer.
- Persistent bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth.
- Loose or shifting teeth.
If you notice any of these symptoms, it's important to schedule an appointment with your dentist. The dentist can measure the 'pockets' of gum around each tooth to see if there is any sign that periodontal disease has started and use x-rays to measure any bone loss.
What happens if gum disease is not treated?
Unfortunately, gum disease progresses painlessly on the whole so that you do not notice the damage it is doing. However, the bacteria are sometimes more active and this makes your gums sore. This can lead to gum abscesses, and pus may ooze from around the teeth. Over a number of years, the bone supporting the teeth can be lost. If the disease is left untreated for a long time, treatment can become more difficult.
How can I prevent gum disease?
Preventing gum disease starts with establishing good oral hygiene habits. Here are some essential tips to keep your gums healthy:
- Brushing and Flossing: Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a soft-bristle toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Don't forget to remove plaque and food particles from between your teeth and along the gumline daily.
- Healthy Diet: Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Avoid sugary and acidic foods and beverages, as they can contribute to gum disease.
- Regular Dental Visits: Schedule routine dental check-ups and professional cleanings every six months. Your dentist can detect early signs of gum disease and provide appropriate treatment or preventive care.
- Quit Smoking: Smoking increases the risk of gum disease and impairs healing. If you smoke, quitting is one of the best things you can do for your oral and overall health.
How is gum disease treated?
Gum disease can be halted and kept to stable to further further loss of bone and tissues supporting the teeth. The treatment for gum disease depends on its severity. In order for periodontal treatment to be successful, it must be supported by very high standards of daily oral hygiene and home self-care
- Early-stage gum disease (gingivitis) can often be reversed by improved oral hygiene practices such as brushing and cleaning between the teeth.
However, if gum disease has progressed to periodontitis, more extensive treatment may be necessary:
- Your dentist or hygienist may initially carry out professional mechanical plaque removal (scale and polish) above the gumline to remove plaque and calculus. Your dentist or hygienist can only move onto more extensive treatments if their are signs are improvement. This heavily depends on your oral hygiene routine and self-care.
- If successful, your dentist can move onto professional mechanical plaque removal of the roots of the teeth. This may take several sessions with the dentist or hygienist and you'll probably need the area to be numbed. Afterwards, you may feel some discomfort for up to 48 hours.
Once I have had periodontal disease, can I get it again?
Periodontal disease is never cured so it is a lifelong disease. If you continue to take good care of your teeth, further loss of bone will be very slow and it may stop altogether. However, you must remove plaque every day and go for regular check-ups with the dentist or hygienist.