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Gum Disease

What is gum disease?

The term gum disease describes swelling, soreness or infection of the tissues supporting the teeth.

Also known as periodontal disease, all gum disease is caused by a build-up of plaque on your teeth: plaque is a sticky film of bacteria which forms every day on teeth and gums. If this is not properly brushed away, some of these bacteria cause inflammation of the gums. If plaque is left it will harden into tartar, which adheres strongly to your teeth and is not easily removed by brushing or flossing; areas of tartar act as plaque “traps” where yet more plaque accumulates.

 

Most people suffer from some form of gum disease, and it is the major cause of tooth loss in adults.

What are the symptoms of gum disease?

In many cases, you may not even be aware that you have gum disease. It is not necessarily a painful condition, and you may not even see any symptoms for quite some time.  Your dentist, however, should be checking your gum health at every check up visit.

 

The first sign that most people see is bleeding while brushing their teeth; there may also be redness, swelling, and unpleasant breath. Some people also experience an odd metallic taste in their mouth; your teeth may also become highly sensitive to changes in temperature. 

 

Your dentist may notice pockets forming between the teeth and gums. 

What types of gum disease are there?

There are two main forms of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis.

Gingivitis

Gingivitis is a condition in which the gums turn red and inflamed. They may be tender or painful to the touch and bleed when you brush your teeth, and often, this bleeding is the very first sign of gingivitis that you actually notice.

Periodontitis

Long-standing gingivitis can turn into periodontal disease. There are a number of types of periodontal disease and they all affect the tissues supporting the teeth. As the disease gets worse the bone anchoring the teeth in the jaw is lost, making the teeth loose. If this is not treated, the teeth may eventually fall out. In fact, more teeth are lost through periodontal disease than through tooth decay.

Am I particularly at risk?

Although gum disease affects 90% of the population at some time or the other in their lives, there are certain people who are more at risk than others: 

Smokers

Smoking slows down the delivery of blood, including nutrients and oxygen, to the gums, and thus increases bacterial plaque. It also decelerates the healing process, exposing the gums to the risk of infection.

Women

Women are more prone to gum disease than men because of the hormonal fluctuations that they experience during various stages of their lives. Besides puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause which can cause major hormonal changes, the use of oral contraceptives can also put women at risk; these hormonal changes make gums extra sensitive to the effects of plaque, exposing them to disease. 

Diabetics

People with diabetes are generally more vulnerable to infections, and sores or wounds can take a long time to heal. With gum disease however diabetics are a well recognised ‘at risk’ group due to changes in white blood cell behaviour.

Those with a weakened immune system

People who are under stress, are suffering from AIDS, or are undergoing chemotherapy, have a weakened immune system, and their bodies are susceptible to infections, including gum disease. 

Does gum disease just affect my gums?

The effects of periodontitis seem to extend beyond the teeth and gums:

  • There is evidence that periodontitis during pregnancy enhances the risk of premature delivery and low birth weight in infants. There is also higher risk of preeclampsia, a condition that manifests itself mid pregnancy, and is characterized by an increase in blood pressure.
  • Periodontitis has also been found to aggravate diabetes.
  • There is strong evidence for the increased risk of coronary artery disease (CAD) in those who have periodontitis.

How can gum disease be treated?

The early signs of gum disease can be treated simply by incorporating healthy eating habits into your lifestyle, and adopting a complete and regular routine of brushing (to remove plaque from the surface of the teeth) and flossing or inter-dental brushing (to remove plaque from between the teeth).  For more information see The Good Dentist Guide to Preventive Care. 

 

Your dentist or dental hygienist will treat gingivitis by using a scaler to remove tartar in a regular series of cleaning sessions, together with establishing an effective brushing and flossing routine. 

 

The solution to periodontitis is a much deeper clean of your teeth, which is usually done under local anaesthetic. This allows your dentist to clean around the roots of the teeth (root planing) and into the areas where the gums have receded, allowing plaque to collect. In very advanced cases, your dentist may recommend gum surgery performed by a periodontist, to cut and lift the gums away to clean effectively around the base of the teeth, then stitch the gums back into place.

 

Antibiotics can be used to reduce the amount of bacteria produced. These can be combined with surgery, or can be prescribed on their own. 

 

All of these treatments must be underpinned by the adoption of a regular and effective brushing routine, backed up by regular visits to your dentist and hygienist, to ensure that plaque is never again allowed to build up un-checked. 

 

 

 

 
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