Gum disease is an infection of the tissues that surround and support your teeth. It is a major cause of tooth loss in adults. Because gum disease is usually painless, you may not know you have it. Also referred to as periodontal disease when the damage is involving both the gums and the bone surrounding your tooth (advanced form of gum disease), gum disease is caused by plaque, the sticky film of bacteria that is constantly forming on our teeth.
Here are some warning signs that can signal a problem:
- gums that bleed easily
- red, swollen, tender gums
- gums that have pulled away from the teeth
- persistent bad breath or bad taste
- permanent teeth that are loose or separating
- any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
- any change in the fit of partial dentures
Some factors increase the risk of developing gum disease. They are:
- poor oral hygiene
- smoking or chewing tobacco
- crooked teeth that are hard to keep clean
- medications, including steroids, certain types of anti-epilepsy drugs, cancer therapy drugs, some calcium channel blockers and oral contraceptives
Gum Disease Diagnosis and Prevention
- Proper brushing twice a day and flossing daily will help prevent periodontal disease.
- During a regular dental examination, the dentist or hygienist will inspect the gums and probe between the tooth and gum to check for periodontal disease.
- A professional cleaning every three to six months by a dentist or dental hygienist will remove plaque and calculus from hard-to-reach areas that might otherwise be susceptible to periodontal disease.
- If signs of disease have progressed to a certain point, the dentist may suggest the patient see a periodontist – a dentist who specialises in the treatment of periodontal disease.
Value of Natural Teeth and Healthy Gums
- Look nice – sex appeal. ‘Your teeth are the heart of your smile’.
- A clean and comfortable mouth helps your sense of well-being, self esteem and pride in your appearance.
- Enjoyment of food. Ability to chew and taste food.
- Ability to speak with confidence. No impediment from loose or ill-fitting dentures, or fear of a bad breath.
What happens if you have Gum Disease?
- Bleeding gums when cleaning teeth, or eating food.
- Unsightly appearance of unhealthy and red gums. Your smile can ‘turn people off’.
- Bad Breath (halitosis) from poorly cleaned or uncleansable teeth and diseased gums.
- If untreated, can lead to premature tooth loss. This can have an effect on your appearance, chewing and tasting food, speaking and comfort.
See your dentist if you suspect you have gum disease because the sooner you treat it the better. The early stage of gum disease is called gingivitis. If you have gingivitis, your gums may become red, swollen and bleed easily. At this stage, the disease is still reversible and can usually be eliminated by a professional cleaning at your dental office, followed by daily brushing and flossing.
Advanced gum disease is called periodontitis. Chronic periodontitis can lead to the loss of tissue and bone that support the teeth and it may become more severe over time. If it does, your teeth will feel loose and start moving around in your mouth. This is the most common form of periodontitis in adults but can occur at any age. It usually gets worse slowly, but there can be periods of rapid progression.
Aggressive periodontitis is a highly destructive form of periodontal disease that occurs in patients who are otherwise healthy. Common features include rapid loss of tissue and bone and may occur in some areas of the mouth, or in the entire mouth.
Research between systemic diseases and periodontal diseases is ongoing. While a link is not conclusive, some studies indicate that severe gum disease may be associated with several other health conditions such as diabetes or stroke.
It is possible to have gum disease and have no warning signs. That is one reason why regular dental checkups and periodontal examinations are very important. Treatment methods depend upon the type of disease and how far the condition has progressed. Good dental care at home is essential to help keep periodontal disease from becoming more serious or recurring.