Gum disease is a term that is used for a variety of conditions from simple gum inflammation to serious gum disease that can result in teeth being lost.
Gum disease can cause problems elsewhere in your body, but can be slowed and even stopped with proper care and attention to your oral health.
Plaque bacteria can cause inflammation (redness and swelling) of the gums that dentists call gingivitis. Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease in which the gums bleed easily. It can usually be revered with daily brushing and flossing and does not usually lead to permanent gum damage.
If gingivitis is not treated it can advance to a condition known as periodontitis, which means ‘inflammation around the tooth’. This risk is even higher in the presence of additional risk factors.
3 out of 4 adults will suffer from some form of gum disease at least once in their life.
In periodontitis, gums pull away from the teeth allowing ‘pockets’ if infection to form. The bone and tissue that hold the teeth in place start to break down. If periodontitis is not treated the bone and tissue supporting the teeth are destroyed and teeth may eventually become loose and have to be removed.
What causes gum disease?
Mouths are actually full of bacteria. These bacteria are responsible for that sticky feeling you get in the morning before you’ve brushed your teeth. Dentists call this sticky coating ‘plaque’ and regular brushing and flossing helps to remove plaque. Plaque that is not removed can harden and form what is known as tartar. Only a professional cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist can remove tartar. Leaving plaque and tartar to build up in your mouth can eventually lead to gum disease.
Who gets periodontal disease?
Usually people don’t show signs of severe gum disease until they are in their 30s or 40s. Men are more likely to have periodontal disease than women. Most commonly gum disease develops when plaque is allowed to build up along and under the gum line.
Symptoms are not always noticeable in the early stages but may include:
- Persistent bad breath
- Red or swollen gums
- Tender or bleeding gums
- Painful chewing
- Loose teeth
- Sensitive teeth
If you experience any of these symptoms, be sure to tell your dentist or dental hygienist. Regular (at least once a year) check-ups including probing of periodontal pockets minimize the risk of unnoticed disease progression.
What are the risk factors for gum disease?
- Smoking is one of the most significant risk factors for developing periodontitis. Also, smoking can actually reduce the effectiveness of treatment.
- Hormonal changes in girls and women can make gums more sensitive and make it easier for gingivitis to develop.
- Diabetes can put you at a higher risk for developing infections, including periodontal disease.
- Stress reduces your body’s ability to fight infection, including periodontal disease.
- Medication such as antidepressants and some heart treatments can affect oral health.
- Illnesses like cancer or AIDS, as well as their treatments can affect gum health.
- Genetic susceptibility means that some people are more prone to severe periodontal disease that others.
Other problems gum disease can cause:
- An increased risk of delivering pre-term, low birth weight babies in pregnant women
- Difficulty controlling blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
- An increased risk of arteriosclerosis and heart attack or stroke
Luckily, gum disease is preventable. Here are some tips for prevention:
- Brush your teeth for two minutes twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste
- Floss every day
- Visit the dentist routinely for a check-up and professional cleaning
- Have your brushing technique checked by your dentist or dental hygienist
- Eat a well-balanced diet and try not to snack on sugary foods between meals
- Don’t smoke