Most of us are aware of ways to care for our teeth and prevent tooth decay. Gum care, though less well understood, is just as important. Gum disease is caused by the bacteria that live in plaque, a sticky colourless film which forms on our teeth after eating. Unless plaque is frequently removed with brushing or dental cleaning, the bacteria in plaque can cause gum infection and tooth decay. Left untreated, gum disease can progress to affecting the bone that supports the teeth.
There are three stages of gum disease; the first is gingivitis where plaque builds up on the gumline and releases toxins which can irritate the gums. The second stage is periodontitis, where the bone and tissues holding the teeth become irreversibly damaged. The third stage is advanced periodontitis, where the fibres and bone holding the teeth in place are destroyed. This causes the teeth to become loose and shift from their normal position. When bone loss is advanced, it can be almost impossible to save the affected teeth. Early intervention can halt the progress of gum disease and stop it from becoming more advanced and causing tooth and bone loss.
You may not know you have gum disease, which is why it’s so important to check your own mouth and book an appointment for a regular dental check-up. Look at your gums and become familiar with any changes.For some people, the first sign they have a gum problem is that their teeth don’t sit or align correctly when they bite. Loose teeth or a change in the appearance of their teeth can also cause suspicion. Gum redness, swelling, tenderness and bleeding when brushing and/or flossing are classic symptoms of gum disease. Another sign is puffy gums, pulling away from the teeth so they look longer. Teeth which are loose or sensitive also feature with gum disease. More advanced gum disease can cause pus to form between the teeth and within the gums. And bad breath, sometimes called ‘perio’ breath, is another symptom. You may have an unpleasant taste in your mouth as well.
Treatment of gum disease depends on how advanced it is. In the early stages, regular cleaning with brushing and flossing is a good start. A more thorough and comprehensive clean by a dentist can help to remove plaque and tartar collected under the gum-line and in the shallow trough in-between the teeth and the gums. If there are any rough, old or broken fillings that are causing food to become trapped, these may also need to be replaced to help prevent further damage to the gums. In more severe cases of gum disease, a deep clean of the roots of the teeth may be required over three to four visits. You may also be given an option to see a gum disease specialist for more advanced treatment.
Book regular appointments with your dentist so they can guide you on preventative measures to maintain your gum health. Remember that caring for your gums and teeth is one of the most important things you can do to reduce the impact of gum disease; brush, floss and repeat, twice a day, every day.