What is a gum disease?
Gum disease is a very common dental problem. It is usually caused by poor oral hygiene and ranges from simple swelling in the gums to serious bone and tooth loss.
What are the types of gum diseases?
Gum disease begins as bacteria builds up in the mouth, particularly between the gums and teeth, gradually inflaming your the gums —a condition called gingivitis. If left untreated, gingivitis escalates and damages the bone as well, leading to periodontitis. As the bone that supports the tooth gets infected, it recedes and forms deep gum pockets that collect more and more plaque and bacteria, which in turn, results in advanced periodontitis, where more bone loss occurs until the tooth becomes loose. If this continues, when pain starts occurring there is little that can be done except take the tooth out.
What are the causes of gum disease?
As with any oral problem, gum disease happens largely because of poor dental hygiene. But, there are also important other factors that may be involved in causing gum disease:
- Smoking (this is well known and documented so give it up!)
- Diabetes (this is also a massive factor and the more poorly controlled your condition, the worse the effect tend to be)
- Hormonal changes
- Cardiovascular disease
- Certain medications (oral contraceptives, anti-depressants, anti-seizure, etc.)
- Age (more common as you grow older)
- Clenching or grinding teeth
- Misaligned teeth
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Compromised immune system
- Substance abuse
- Lack of certain vitamins
- Susceptibility to certain bacteria implemented in gum disease
What are the symptoms of gum disease?
Symptoms of gingivitis usually include:
- Bleeding gums (especially when brushing or flossing)
- Swollen, inflamed or bright red gums
Symptoms of periodontitis include:
- Constant bad breath
- Pain when chewing
- Loose or moving teeth
- Sensitive teeth
- Receding gums (can be caused by tooth brush abrasion)
- Change in the way your bite fits
- Gaps opening up
- Abscesses in the gums
- Unpleasant taste in the mouth
- Sore gums
- Also symptoms of gingivitis
What happens when I go to the dentist?
To diagnose gum disease, your Maroubra dentist will first ask you about your medical history then measure your gums to measure how deep the pockets between the tooth and gums are. The deeper the pockets, the more severe the disease is. 1-3mm is considered healthy, 4mm or more will require treatment as you can’t keep this area clean under the gum. Sensitive teeth comes from the gums receding and exposing the root surface as the gums follow the jaw bone being lost. Your dentist will need to take X-rays to determine the extent of the condition. Of course, your dentist is also going to check for any plaque and tartar build-up and give you all the hygiene instruction necessary- it is your job to do it!
“The longer you leave it untreated, the more irreversible damage that will be caused!”
It’s really important to go to your dentist and have yourself checked at the onset of symptoms so the gum disease can be treated early. We check for gum disease at every check-up so you just need to come in for an examination. Remember, the longer you leave it untreated, the more irreversible damage that will be caused in the bone that’s supporting your tooth. It can take many years to actually give you noticeable problems but ask anyone with the disease and they will tell you they wish they had started treating the disease earlier, that’s for sure.
How is gum disease treated?
Depending on the severity of the disease, treatment may vary but the ultimate goal is to slow the progress and reduce the infection as much as possible. It is not possible currently to cure it. Treatments could be:
- Scaling and Root Planing
- Prescribing medicines
- Gum surgery
- Bone and Tissue Grafts
- Laser periodontal treatment
- Regenerative procedures
- Pocket Reduction procedures
- Tooth Extraction and replacement
- Dental restoration adjustment
- Oral hygiene instruction
- Removing anything that allows additional plaque to build up. We call this a ‘plaque retentive factor’
The dentist can help treat your disease but we aren’t there every day, so your home care is absolutely critical in preventing gum disease and [if you suffer], reducing the speed of its progression.
What treatments should I do at home, if I can’t see a dentist immediately?
If you have a gum abscess you need to see your dentist in Maroubra as soon as possible. In the mean time you need to go back to basics with cleaning and brushing and make sure you are doing the best job you possibly can. If, for some reason, it is not currently possible, try these home remedies to help treat gum disease:
- Rinsing with warm salt water may help reduce the inflammation and has antibacterial qualities
- Using a soft toothbrush, brush your teeth in a circular motion to not aggravate the tender gums further
- If your gums bleed don’t stop- carry on- you need to remove the plaque for the inflammation to settle and the bleeding to stop
- Brush your teeth twice a day, or every time after eating
- Gently and carefully floss every day with the correct technique
- You can use an antiseptic mouthwash like Savacol- follow the instructions on the bottle
How can I prevent getting gum disease?
Now that your bleeding gums are under control, there are a few steps to prevent it happening again:
- Maintain good dental hygiene and have a professional and thorough cleaning by your Maroubra dentist twice a year or every three months for very susceptible patients. This will prevent gingivitis from occurring and your dentist can regularly check up on your oral health making sure you are on track
- Use an antiseptic mouthwash to lessen the plaque buildup and reduce inflammation
- Use a softish toothbrush with blunt ends. Also, make sure to use gentle, circular motions when brushing
- Brush your tongue (this is a major breeding ground for bacteria).
- Floss daily (before brushing your teeth) carefully and gently slide the floss up and down between your teeth to remove plaque the toothbrush will miss
- Eat a well-balanced diet and exercise to make your immune system stronger to effectively fight off any infection. This will also reduce chance of getting diabetes which is generally occurring in overweight individuals with poor diets and no exercise (Type II)
- Drink plenty of water after eating to help wash food off your teeth
- If you have sensitive teeth, try to avoid eating and drinking extremely hot or cold food and beverages and use a sensitive toothpaste
- Try to de-stress and relax to avoid raising the levels of cortisol (a stress hormone that increases the likelihood of inflammation) in your body
- If your dentures do not fit correctly, make sure to see your dentist to avoid causing sore spots in your gums and make sure they aren’t putting added pressure on teeth that is furthering attachment loss
- Know whether you have a higher risk of getting gum disease through genetics and that you will need to make more of an effort to prevent it
What to avoid:
- Cutting back on brushing and flossing, especially when you have bleeding or irritated gums; this is the opposite of what you should be doing
- Using mouthwash that has alcohol; this will dry out your mouth and may aggravate the problem
- Brushing using a long back-and-forth motion; this irritates and damages the gums further, leading to toothbrush abrasion and recession
- Brushing your teeth too hard
- Forcing the floss down hard into the gum-line
- Eating sugary foods or processed carbohydrates
- Smoking; it’s terrible for gum disease- give it up or be prepared to loose your teeth down the track.