Gum disease is where the gums become swollen, sore or infected; these conditions are also known as gingivitis and in more severe cases, periodontal disease. Mild cases of gum disease can effectively treated by having a good oral hygiene routine and having your teeth professionally cleaned.
It is estimated that 50% the adult population has some degree of gum disease and most people experience it at least once throughout their life. It is much less common in children.
The disease is not always painful and many people are unaware they have a problem; this in itself goes someway to explain why so many people don’t have healthy gums.
Causes of Gum Disease
The main cause of unhealthy gums is the build up of plaque on your teeth and gums. Dental plaque is a film of sticky material that develops naturally on teeth and causes gum disease and tooth decay if not removed at regular intervals.
Plaque is made up of saliva, food particles and bacteria and attaches itself to the surfaces of teeth above and below the gum line. The bacteria use the sugars from the food particles to thrive and multiply to produce acids that attack the tooth’s enamel.
Plaque begins forming on teeth 4 to 12 hours after brushing, after about 24 hours plaque begins to harden finally becoming Tartar in an average of 12 days. The timeline varies from person to person as each of us varies greatly to our susceptibility to tartar build up. Age is also a factor as tartar builds up faster the older we get.
Plaque is best controlled by twice daily brushing (plus daily flossing if you floss) and during regular visits to your dental hygienist.
Don’t forget plaque loves to hangout in those hard to reach places in your mouth so pay special attention to those areas. If you need help with your brushing technique see my in-depth article on how to brush properly that includes a helpful video.
Unfortunately some people are more susceptible to gum disease than others. In fact, studies show that 30% of the population may be genetically predisposed to gum disease. If other members of your family suffer from gum disease and could have inherited this predisposition.
Parents that have gum disease should have their young ones checked out by a dental professional; their children may have a greater probability of being predisposed to gum disease.
In severe cases of gum disease, a condition called periodontitis can develop; this affects the gum tissue that holds the teeth in place. In the UK, 10-15% of adults have severe periodontitis, with many more being affected to a lesser degree.
Other factors that increase the susceptibility to gum disease are:
- age – the older we get the more susceptible we are gum disease
- underlying systemic diseases, diabetes being a prime example
- medications that reduce immunity such as chemotherapeutics or drugs that cause dry mouth syndrome(xerostomia)
The initial symptoms of gum disease are:
- red and swollen gums
- bleeding gums after brushing or flossing your teeth
- teeth that look longer because the gums have receded
Non-surgical Treatments for Gum Disease
Keeping to a regular twice and day brushing is fundamental in preventing the build up of plaque but often this is not enough. If you suffer any of the symptoms above you should visit your dental practice and arrange to have your teeth professionally cleaned.
During a typical check-up your dentist or dental hygienist will remove the plaque and tartar (hardened plaque) that has built up. Plaque and tartar not only forms on teeth surfaces but below the gum line and can only be removed with professional cleaning. If you visit your hygienist twice a year and brush properly it should be enough to keep your teeth and gums healthy.
If your gums have either started to pull away from the teeth or the roots of the teeth have tartar deposits on them, your dentist may recommend root planing and scaling. It sounds horrible but is quite a simple procedure that cleans between the gums and the teeth down to the roots.
Your dentist may need to use a local anesthetic to numb your gums and the roots of your teeth and you may have antibiotic fibres inserted into the pockets between your teeth and gums. The antibiotic will help speed healing and prevent infection. The dentist will remove the fibres about 1 week later.
If you maintain good dental care after root planing and scaling your gums will heal and should become firm and pink again.
Some treatments for gum disease may necessitate the need for surgery.
- Flap surgery/pocket reduction surgery. During this procedure the gums are lifted back and the tarter is removed
- bone grafts – involves using fragments of your own bone or synthetic bone to replace bone diseased bone
- soft tissue grafts – this procedure reinforces thin gums or fills in places where gums have receded
- guided tissue regeneration performed when the bone supporting your teeth has been destroyed
- bone surgery – smoothes shallow craters in the bone due to some bone loss, making it harder for bacteria to collect
I does pain me to have to shell out dentist and hygienist fees; but there are more painful ways to pay if you don’t keep your teeth and gums in good order.