Many people think that decay is the biggest thing that they need to worry about where their teeth are concerned. However, there is another dental condition that is extremely common and that can affect anyone, regardless of their age – gum disease. Recent studies suggest that more than 42% of adults in the United States have some degree of gum disease.
Gum disease is an inflammatory condition that primarily affects the soft tissue of the gums, but that can also spread to other parts of the mouth if it isn’t treated. You may also hear of gum disease referred to by other names, including periodontitis, periodontal disease and gingivitis. However, they all essentially refer to the same thing – bacterial growth inside the mouth that begins on the teeth as a result of poor brushing.
What causes gum disease?
When we eat, the sugars in our food interact with the bacteria in our mouth, feeding them so that they can multiply and produce a sticky film called plaque that is colorless and covers the teeth. If plaque isn’t removed, the film can spread onto the gum tissue where the bacteria cause inflammation and irritation. However, gum disease is progressive which means that if it is left untreated, the bacteria can spread. It will advance into small pockets that form between the teeth and gums, causing infection and enabling bacteria to get beyond the gum tissue and into the bone. If this happens, the tooth root can become infected and the gum tissue can bone can be destroyed. Eventually, tooth loss is unavoidable.
Another important thing to be aware of is the potential for further harm to your body as a result of gum disease. Experts agree that there is a definitive link between gum disease and other health conditions that affect the body, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, cancer and more.
Am I at risk of developing gum disease?
while poor oral hygiene is the main cause of gum disease, there are some other factors that can also contribute towards the development of the condition. These include:
- Hormonal changes, such as those that happen during pregnancy or menopause.
- A compromised immune system, such as is seen in patients with cancer and HIV.
- Suffering from diabetes. This is because diabetes affects the body’s ability to control its blood sugar levels, putting patients at higher risk of infection.
- Smoking, which has been shown to be a major contributor to the development of gum disease.
- Taking certain medications, particularly those which cause a dry mouth.
What are the symptoms and signs of gum disease?
Gum disease is often referred to as a ‘silent disease’ due to the fact that the initial symptoms develop very slowly, and because they are so mild, it is easy to ignore or overlook them until the condition has progressed. Gum disease is also largely painless until the very advanced stages, which is another reason why many patients put off going to their dentist with their concerns until they absolutely can no longer avoid it.
Gum disease symptoms tend to develop in stages. The initial symptoms include:
- Red, swollen and tender gums
- Bleeding when brushing, flossing or eating hard/chewy foods
As the condition progresses, patients may also notice:
- Their gums are starting to recede, pulling away from the teeth and causing them to look longer than before
- Formation of deep pockets between teeth and gums
- Persistent bad breath
- Obvious infection around the teeth such as pus or sores
- Teeth appear to separate, with gaps opening between them
- Dental pain
Finally, when gum disease reaches the most advanced stages, patients may experience:
- Deterioration of the bone in the jaw
- Teeth becoming loose or falling out
- A change in the way that their dentures fit
- A change in the way that their teeth come together when you bite
Can gum disease be treated?
The good news is that in the early stages, gum disease can be reversed using proper cleaning techniques and attending regular professional cleans with your dentist/hygienist. There are also a range of treatments that can be used to help address the effects of gum disease. These include root canal, scaling and root planing and gum grafting. Your dentist will be able to talk you through your options for treatment based on the progression of your gum disease. However, it is possible to prevent gum disease altogether.
Worried that you may be affected by gum disease? Contact our team today to schedule an appointment for a dental assessment.