Could you have gum disease?

Gum or periodontal disease can be a major cause of early tooth loss in adults and is often prevented or treated effectively if detected early.  Periodontal disease is a bacterial infection that destroys the attachment fibres and supporting bone that hold the teeth in the mouth.  The main cause of periodontal disease is bacterial plaque, a sticky, colourless film that constantly forms on teeth.  Daily home oral care, including proper brushing and flossing, is a must to prevent plaque build up.

If the plaque is not removed, it can turn into a hard substance called calculus or tartar in less than two days.  This calculus is so hard that it can only be removed during cleaning by a dental health professional.  Toxins (or poisons) produced by the bacteria that form the plaque and calculus irritate the gums causing infection. The gum tissue becomes inflamed and bleeds readily.  These toxins can also cause the supporting tissues around the teeth, including bone to be destroyed.  When this happens, the gums separate from the teeth, forming pockets that become filled with plaque and the infection becomes established around the teeth.  As the disease progresses, the pockets deepen, more gum tissue and bone is lost, the teeth become loose and eventually are lost. Periodontal disease can affect one tooth or many teeth.

The signs of gum disease are:

  • Bleeding on toothbrushing or flossing
  • Red, swollen and possibly tender gums
  • Persistent bad breath
  • Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
  • Receding gums
  • Loose teeth or teeth that have changed position
  • Pus or discharge from around the gums
  • A change in the way teeth bite together

Most people donít experience pain with periodontal disease until it is often too late and a tooth may then need to be extracted.  Early detection is important in controlling the disease.

If you think you have gum disease, you may refer yourself to a periodontist (gum specialist) or see your dentist to check the health of your gums.  Your dentist may suggest specialist treatment.  Measurements are taken of the pockets around your teeth and x-rays taken to check the health of the bone around your teeth.  This will ensure an accurate diagnosis.

Treatment depends on the type of gum disease present and how serious or advanced the condition is.  It will often include instruction and help with specific oral hygiene methods to control the bacteria that collect on teeth.  There is likely to be a need for meticulous tooth cleaning both above and below the gum line.  All the calculus and plaque deposits need to be removed.  Antibiotics and a mouthwash may be used if appropriate.  Gum recession or shrinkage may be corrected by grafting to improve the appearance of the these areas.  Lost bone can be regenerated in some cases with advanced surgical techniques.

Daily effective brushing and flossing as well as professional cleaning at least twice a year is necessary to remove calculus from areas that are inaccessible to toothbrushing and flossing.

Periodontal disease can lead to unnecessary early loss of teeth, and research has linked periodontal disease to more serious health problems such as diabetes, cardiovascular and respiratory disease and pre-term low-birthweight babies. For more information visit our section on Periodontal disease and your health.

If you have any enquiries or if you wish to make an appointment to have your gum health checked please call or email.