What is gum disease?
Gum disease is an inflammation of the gums that can progress to affect the bone that surrounds and supports the teeth. The three stages of gum disease – from minor to major severity, are: gingivitis, periodontitis and advanced periodontitis.
Signs and symptoms
Gum disease can be painless, so it is important to be alert to any of the following symptoms:
- Bleeding of the gums with brushing
- Swelling, red or tender gums
- Gums that retract or move away from the teeth
- Persistent bad breath or bad taste in the mouth
- Loose teeth
- A change in the shape of the teeth
- Visible pus that surrounds teeth and gums
- A change in the fit of partial dentures
- Sharp or dull pains when chewing food
- Dental sensitivity
The main source is plaque-causing bacteria, which causes gum disease. If it is not removed, the plaque can harden and become tartar (calculation). Brushing or flossing cannot eliminate tartar; a dental professional (dentist) will have to perform a dental cleaning to remove it.
Daily care and an early diagnosis of the potential problems associated with plaque will prevent bacteria from infecting the gums and teeth and finally the tissue from the gums and the bone that supports the teeth. If the infection continues, there are three stages of gum disease:
- Gingivitis – This is the earliest stage of gum disease. It is inflammation of the gums, caused by the accumulation of dental plaque in the gum line. Redness accompanied by swelling of the gums is characteristic; a little bleeding is also common during brushing. It can be reversed at the early stage of this gum disease since the bone and tissue that holds the teeth in place are still not affected.
- Periodontitis – At this stage, the supporting bone and the fibers that hold the teeth in place are irreversibly damaged. The gums begin to form a bag below the gum line, which increases the penetration and growth of the plaque below the gum line. It is essential to prevent further damage by improving personal oral hygiene, but professional periodontal therapy is already required at this stage.
- Advanced Periodontitis – In this more advanced stage of gum disease the fibers and bone of the teeth are destroyed which can cause the teeth to move or loosen. This can affect your bite and how you eat and communicate. If aggressive periodontal therapy cannot save them, the tooth may need to be removed by a specialist. Your dentist will provide you with repair options if the teeth are removed due to periodontal disease.
Correct brushing and flossing are the best option to keep plaque at bay, which is the source of all these problems. Using an antibacterial toothpaste or mouthwash can kill the bacteria and reduce the amount of plaque in the mouth. Extraction of dental plaque is the key to preventing gum disease and improving oral health.
Professional cleaning by your dentist or dental hygienist is the only way to remove plaque that has been built and hardened as tartar. By scheduling regular checkups – twice a year – gum disease can be treated in its early stages before it results in a much more serious condition.
If gum disease is more advanced, and reaches the root, treatment can be given to treat sick periodontal pockets and infection of the gums. A dental hygienist uses an ultrasonic scraping device to remove plaque, tartar and food debris above and below the gum line, and manually scale the surfaces of the teeth and root to be smooth and disease-free. Laser treatments are also sometimes used to remove tartar deposits. If the periodontal pockets are more than 5 millimeters deep, i.e. if you have moderate to severe periodontitis, gingival flap surgery can be performed by a periodontist to reduce periodontal pockets, as well as bone grafting to restore bone lost.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers have discovered possible associations between gum disease and other serious health problems. If you have diabetes, for example, you are at higher risk of developing infections, such as periodontal disease. The CDC reports that gum disease may be related to damage to other parts of the body. Recent published research studies suggest an association between oral infections and diseases such as diabetes, as mentioned above, heart disease and stroke. Further research is done to examine these connections.
Who can have it?
Almost 80% of adults will notice some symptom throughout their life, but does not mean that it cannot be avoided. It is possible to feel no pain and no apparent signs (inflamed gingiva, bleeding, etc.), so typically a sufferer is unaware of the problem. It is another good reason to arrange regular check-ups at the dentist’s office every six months so that you can identify the problem and suggest a treatment.