What is Gum Disease?
Gum disease is caused by an infection or inflammation in your gums. It is usually the result of excessive bacteria building up on your teeth.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe depending on how far the disease has advanced. (1)
Also known as periodontal disease, it’s a very common problem. In fact, just under half of the US population aged over 30 report some form of the condition. (2)
The average person’s mouth contains different species of bacteria numbering in the hundreds. It also contains other substances, such as mucus.
Bacteria and these other substances can accumulate on your teeth. They form a colorless, sticky deposit that is known as plaque.
Brushing and flossing your teeth regularly can remove plaque build-up. However, if plaque is left to settle, it can grow hard and become tartar.
Tartar cannot be cleaned or removed with a toothbrush or floss. Only specialized cleaning tools used by a dentist can get rid of this accumulation.
If you don’t take care to keep your mouth clean, you are more likely to get gum disease. Smoking is also a chief risk factor for gum disease and can worsen existing symptoms.
Medication that decreases saliva production are linked to the disease. Genetics can also play a role in your chances of contracting the condition. (3)
The hormonal changes which occur with pregnancy can also escalate gum disease. Gingivitis, a mild form of the disorder, can become severe if not treated. (4)
Gum disease can be asymptomatic (without symptoms) until it has significantly advanced. Symptoms can include the following: (5)
Most people experience bad breath, otherwise known as halitosis on occasions.
However, if you notice persistently bad breath it could be a sign of gum disease.
Gum disease results in inflammation of the gums. This can cause your gums to become swollen.
Swelling in the gums may also be accompanied by tenderness and pain.
Bleeding gums are one of the most significant warning signs of the disease. Your gums may bleed after you brush or floss your teeth.
As they grow more inflamed, your gums can also bleed if you eat food which is especially hard (such as crackers).
If gum disease advances, it can cause your gums to recede. This means they will start to pull away from your teeth.
This symptom can result in visual changes to your smile. As a consequence your teeth can appear longer than usual.
Severe gum disease can end with your teeth falling out. Your teeth will grow looser in their sockets or start to separate from each other.
If untreated, gum disease can advance and cause more serious symptoms. Permanent damage to your teeth and gums can occur.
The stages of the condition correspond to the spread of bacteria (plaque) and severity of inflammation.
Gum disease can progress through the following stages:
At this stage, the disease is still mild. It is caused by plaque deposits building up on the teeth.
Typical symptoms include red, swollen gums which may bleed easily. Pain at this stage is minimal or nonexistent.
Most individuals will experience gingivitis at some point in their lives. (6)
If untreated, gingivitis can advance to periodontitis. There are many different types of periodontitis with varying risk factors.
Certain forms, such as necrotizing periodontal disease are specific to individuals with malnutrition or immune disorders.
Chronic periodontitis is the most common form of the condition. It usually progresses gradually over time. (7)
Periodontitis can also advance in episodes. The disease may go through phases where the gums are actively damaged, followed by longer periods with little or no progression. (8)
Plaque begins to spread and actively grow underneath your gum line. The toxins found in plaque inflame your gums. The plaque itself can harden and form tartar.
As the disease advances, pockets can form between gums and teeth. These pockets are susceptible to infection.
Gum tissue as well as bone can eventually break down. Your teeth may become sensitive, or begin to loosen. (9)
As a result, chewing can become painful. Gum soreness and bleeding can also intensify. (10)
Your dentist can diagnose gum disease with a physical examination. Your gums will be checked for symptoms of inflammation, such as swelling.
Your medical history will also be reviewed. This will enable your dentist to identify any risk factors or pre-existing conditions causing or aggravating the condition.
Pockets around your teeth will be examined and measured. A healthy individual will usually have pockets no more than 3 millimeters in depth.
Depending on the severity of your condition, your dentist may recommend you see a periodontist. This is a type of doctor specializing in gum disease. (11)
Treatments for gum disease aim to repair damage and reduce bacteria. These may include one or more of the following options:
Oral hygiene can be described as any practice which improves and maintains your oral (mouth) health. Poor oral hygiene can intensify gum disease.
It is important that you brush and floss your teeth regularly. Ideally, you should brush your teeth for two minutes twice daily.
Avoid smoking and schedule regular visits with your dentist for check-ups to address any issues.
An antiseptic mouthwash can also reduce plaque build-up. However, your dentist will suggest the most suitable type for your gum disease.
Polishing and Scaling
Polishing and scaling your teeth is a type of dental treatment. It involves the removal of tartar and plaque on your teeth.
A dental hygienist will use special instruments to scale away these bacterial deposits. Your teeth will then be polished to get rid of any residual stains.
You may require more than one session depending on the severity of your condition.
Root planing, also known as debridement is a form of deep gum cleaning. You will receive local anesthetic during the procedure.
Bacteria (plaque, tartar, or both) will be cleaned away from each affected root. Some individuals experience discomfort for up to two days afterwards. (12)
Gum Graft Surgery
Gum disease can cause severe damage to your gums. If the roots of your teeth are exposed as a result, you may require surgery.
Gum graft surgery involves grafting tissue to cover the exposed roots. Tissue can be taken from your upper mouth (palate) or donated from another source.
This surgery has aesthetic and medical benefits. It can improve the appearance of your smile as well as reduce gum recession.
This type of surgery is typically performed by a periodontist. (13)
These are procedures which aim to restore tissue and bone loss due to gum disease. They involve removing bacteria underneath your gum tissue.
As with other forms of gum surgery for the disease, a periodontist will likely perform the procedure.
Regenerative procedures can differ depending on the case. Your periodontist may employ the use of bone grafts or proteins to stimulate bone and tissue regrowth. (14)
What is gum disease? Gum disease is the result of inflammation or infection in your gums. The condition can range from mild to severe.
What are the signs of the gum disease? The signs of gum disease include swollen, bleeding or receding gums. Other symptoms are halitosis (bad breath) and loose teeth.
How do you develop gum disease? The disease develops as a result of bacteria (plaque) building up on your teeth. Plaque can eventually harden into tartar, which will begin to spread underneath your gum line.
How are you diagnosed for gum disease? Your dentist will examine your gums for inflammation. Your medical history will be reviewed to determine any factors that are contributing to the disease.
What is the best treatment for gum disease? Treatment for gum disease depends on how far it has progressed. Treatment options include improving oral hygiene, scaling, polishing and root planing. In severe cases surgery may be required.
What are the long term complications of gum disease? If untreated, gum disease can cause loss of teeth and damaged gum tissue. (15)
Is gum disease considered a disability? No, gum disease is not defined as a disability. It does not impact your ability to work long term and is not likely to lead to your death. (16)
Is there a cure for gum disease? Gum disease can be remedied with treatment and consistent oral hygiene practices. (17)
Is gum disease life threatening? Gum disease is not life threatening. However, it has been linked to an increased risk of other conditions, such as heart disease. (18)
Gum disease does not always progress with clear symptoms. The condition can advance silently and does not always cause pain.
The earlier it is caught, the less damage it can do to your gums and teeth. The disease is also easier to treat in early stages.
Regardless of your oral health, it is important to schedule regular appointments with your dentist. A professional can identify symptoms you may have been unaware of.
Your gums should appear to be firm and pink. It is not normal to experience pain or bleeding if your gums are brushed or otherwise touched. (19)
This disease can be prevented. Try to practice good oral hygiene and avoid poor lifestyle habits that increase risk, like smoking. (20)