Gum disease is one of the most common illnesses in the world. Around twenty percent of Australian adults have gum disease; over twice that are afflicted in the USA.
The disease is relatively mild and simple to treat in its earliest stages. Left untreated, it can develop into more serious complications with far-reaching health consequences. For that reason it is essential that people are aware of the signs and symptoms of gum disease, and get intervention as quickly as possible.
What Is Gum Disease?
Simply put, gum disease is a bacterial infection of the gum.
The earliest stages of gum disease are called gingivitis (see below). As the infection grows and spreads, it can reach the bone and become a disease called periodontitis.
Causes of Gum Disease
The most common cause of gum disease is poor oral hygiene. Failing to brush and floss daily allows bacteria to feed on food particles left on and around the teeth. As these bacterial colonies grow, they infect the gum.
There are other biological and behavioural risk factors as well. Behavioural risk factors include smoking. Biological risk factors include hormonal changes, diabetes, and an inherent genetic susceptibility. Various medications and treatments for various illnesses and conditions can also increase your risk of getting gum disease.
Symptoms of Gum Disease
The earliest signs of gum disease are generally easy to see. There will be reddening, swelling, and or bleeding of the gums. This stage is known as gingivitis, or “inflammation of the gum”.
Bleeding of the gums should never be considered normal. If you notice blood while cleaning your teeth and have not cut yourself, it’s typically a sign of gum disease. If you have cut your gum, you need to take extra care with your oral hygiene to prevent bacteria infecting the wound.
Many people overlook these obvious symptoms as pain is typically not felt early on. By the time gum disease becomes painful, it has often developed to periodontitis and is quite severe.
Advanced Complications of Gum Disease
Gum disease follows a fairly predictable path when left untreated. Gingivitis — inflammation of the gums — will progress into periodontitis — inflammation around the root of the tooth. Periodontitis makes gum tissue pull away from the sides of the tooth. These “pockets” can then fill with more bacteria, accelerating the process.
A combination of bacterial toxins and your body’s natural immune response will start to break down the bone and connective tissue surrounding the roots of your teeth. Not only will you lose the tooth, you will also start to lose bone volume.
Gum disease can cause health complications far beyond the confines of the mouth. Bacteria can enter the bloodstream via the mouth and cause problems elsewhere.
One well-documented example is that periodontitis is linked with an increased risk in cardiovascular disease. It has also been shown to be able to compromise pregnancies.
Treating Gum Disease
Treating gingivitis can largely be done through proper oral hygiene practices at home. Brushing and flossing teeth regularly will help clear and starve the infection. For best result, a proper prophylactic clean at the dentist during a six-monthly checkup is crucial.
Periodontitis requires professional treatment from a dentist. The teeth will be scaled and cleaned to remove plaque and tartar. More importantly, a “deep clean” will need to be performed to clear out the pockets between the tooth and gum. Special scraping tools, lasers, or even ultrasonic devices are used to clean out these infected pockets and free the patient of infection. This typically takes one to two visits to the dentist, depending on the severity of the case.
Advanced periodontitis may infect the root canal of a tooth, leading to root canal treatment. It may also be simply necessary to remove a tooth entirely.
Preventing Gum Disease
Maintaining a proper oral hygiene regimen is the single most effective way of preventing gum disease. Those who are more susceptible to the illness will still be best served by cleaning their teeth regularly.
Regular oral hygiene appointments at the dentist are also effective at preventing gum disease. These checkups also allow dentists or hygienists to spot early warning signs a patient may have missed, and prevent more severe problems before they begin.
Contact Platinum Dental for more information or to book your regular dental check up today.