What is gum disease?
Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease or gingivitis, is a very common condition. It is estimated that up to three quarters of adults in the UK are affected in some way-with most people experiencing it at least once in their lifetime. It is the main cause of tooth loss amongst adults.
Gum disease is caused by the plaque which gradually builds on the surface of your teeth and gums each day. No matter how well you look after your teeth it is impossible to stop this build up with regular brushing and flossing alone. That is why regular dental and hygienist appointments are so important.
As this plaque builds over time it becomes hard and forms tartar. As this happens your gums will start to react to the build-up of bacteria and you may notice that they become irritated or inflamed and can often change colour- becoming a darker pink or red.
In up to 20% of people their immune system can overreact to this build-up of bad bacteria, causing it to attack and break down the bone and tissue surrounding the tooth. It is very difficult to predict who is susceptible to this reaction as it occurs sporadically.
If left untreated, the bone which holds the tooth can start to erode causing it to become loose- or possibly fall out completely.
We can't always feel or notice the onset of gum and bone (periodontal) disease so the only way to monitor it is with regular check-ups. These are important for both adults and children.
Why are healthy gums important?
Healthy teeth rely on healthy gums for support. When your gums are healthy they are pink and firm- with all teeth feeling secure. Gum disease causes sensitivity, pain, bleeding gums, puffy gums, infection and eventually loss of teeth. More teeth are lost through gum disease than through tooth decay.
What are the signs of gum disease?
Gum disease does not always cause pain so it can often be hard to spot. The most common sign is bleeding gums (which may happen when brushing your teeth or eating) and also bad breath. If you have any of these signs then you could be in the early stages of gum disease- (known as gingivitis).
Always remember - if your gums are healthy then they shouldn't bleed!
It is important to treat any symptoms early to avoid them advancing and developing into potentially more serious issues like a gum abscess or tooth loss.
There are a number of signs to look out for.
- Do your gums bleed when you brush or eat hard foods?
- Do you have bad breath or a bad/metallic taste in your mouth?
- Have you noticed any gum recession (do your teeth appear longer)?
- Have you notice an increased sensitivity to hot and cold?
- Have any unusual gaps appeared between your teeth?
- Do any of your teeth feel loose or wobbly?
If you do notice any signs or are concerned about anything at all then contact your Dentist or Dental Hygienist for a thorough check.
How is gum disease treated?
If you have gum disease then you will require a thorough mechanical cleaning under the gums of the root surfaces in order to remove bacterial deposits (this is also known as deep cleaning or debridement). Treatment is normally conducted under a local anaesthetic so you feel comfortable. Following this, you will be given instructions on how to clean more effectively around the teeth and gums using toothbrushes and interdental aids.
Why do I need to see a periodontist?
If your gum disease is quite advanced you may need to be referred to a periodontist. A periodontist is a specialist who diagnoses, prevents and treats gum disease and has the expertise to provide treatment to help you keep your teeth for the long-term.
How can I help protect my teeth from gum disease?
Although it is not possible to actually cure gum disease there are ways to treat it effectively. Early detection is the best way of preventing advancement of the disease and offers the best chance of saving your teeth.
Overall, prevention of gum disease is the best cure. There are a number of factors which can help reduce your risks:
Visit your Dentist regularly! By not visiting your Dentist regularly you are at a higher risk of developing diseases of the mouth, teeth and gums. It can also mean that any signs of oral cancer go unnoticed. You should aim to visit every 6 months to 2 years- your Dentist will advise you.
Regular Hygienist appointments: Visit the Dental hygienist in between regular appointments with your Dentist so that they can remove any plaque deposits helping to keep teeth and gums fresh and healthy. They can also give you advice regarding your personal oral care.
Keep your teeth clean: Always brush your teeth and gums twice a day. Use floss to clean between teeth and if you have gaps consider interdental brushing to remove any bacteria from the hidden gum space between teeth.
Stop smoking: Numerous studies have shown that smokers are more susceptible to developing gum disease. This is due to often higher levels of tartar in the mouth which can cause more tissue irritation. Smokers also have more bone loss and heal less quickly than non-smokers.
Stress and medication: If you are particularly stressed then your immune system can find it more difficult to fight off the bacteria that cause gum infections. Likewise, if you are receiving particular medical treatments such as chemotherapy these will affect your immune system- increasing your risks.
Diabetics: This group of people are more likely to have gum disease and gum disease also makes it more difficult for diabetics to control their blood sugar.