Gum disease is an extremely common condition that affects around half of British adults. There are two main types of gum disease; these include gingivitis and periodontitis.
What is gingivitis?
Gingivitis is the most common form of gum disease; it is caused by a build up of plaque, which is made up of leftover food deposits and bacteria. Plaque develops quickly after eating and therefore a thorough dental hygiene programme is required to prevent gingivitis. If the plaque is left in the mouth, it can cause the gums to become irritated and inflamed.
What causes gingivitis?
In most cases, gingivitis is caused by poor oral hygiene. If the teeth are not brushed and cleaned thoroughly the plaque will remain in the mouth and cause harm to the gum tissue. Some people are more susceptible to gum disease than others; these include:
- Pregnant women: this is due to hormonal changes that take place in the body during pregnancy.
- Smokers: cigarettes contain thousands of harmful substances that can cause damage to the teeth and gums as well as contributing to several other serious health conditions
- People with diabetes
What are the symptoms of gingivitis?
Common symptoms of gingivitis include bleeding from the gums, especially during brushing, swelling in the gums and tenderness and pain around the gums. The gums may also look redder in colour than usual.
Periodontitis is a progression of gingivitis and it usually occurs as a result of untreated gingivitis; periodontitis can be a serious condition and may result in the patient losing one or more teeth. Periodontitis causes the gum tissue around the tooth to pull away from the bone gradually; this leads to the development of small pockets around the tooth, which act as breeding grounds for bacteria. The pockets cannot be cleaned using a toothbrush and the plaque begins to build up and irritate the surrounding gum and bone tissue. Over time, the gums and bone tissue start to decrease in size and the teeth may start to come loose in their sockets; they may fall out or have to be extracted by the dentist.
What are the effects of periodontitis?
Initially, you should look out for symptoms of gingivitis and get treatment as quickly as possible. If the condition is diagnosed early, treatment will be given to reverse the effects of gingivitis and prevent periodontitis. If the condition has progressed you may start to feel like your teeth feel a bit looser than normal and your gums may be sore. Some patients also develop abscesses, which can be very painful. If you notice any of these signs it is important to see your dentist as quickly as possible.
What can be done to treat gum disease?
Gingivitis is a reversible condition that can easily be rectified by adopting a good oral hygiene routine; this ensures that plaque is removed from the mouth and prevents harmful bacteria from building up in the mouth. If you see a dentist, they will clean your teeth thoroughly using an electrical instrument and special toothpaste which is much rougher than normal toothpaste – this process is known as scaling.
If gingivitis has progressed to periodontitis, the dentist may perform several sessions of scaling, which will be much more rigorous than usual scaling treatments. The scaling treatment will be used to try and clean out the pockets that have developed around the teeth. If the pockets are too deep, the patient may require surgery; the dentist may refer the patient to an experienced periodontologist surgeon for this procedure. During surgery, the dental expert will make a number of tiny incisions in the gum tissue and gently pull the tissue back so that they can clean the pockets thoroughly. Once this has been done the gum will be repositioned and stitched.
Preventing gum disease
The only way to prevent gum disease is to adopt a good daily oral hygiene routine, which includes brushing the teeth at least twice a day for at least two minutes each time, flossing after brushing and using an antibacterial mouthwash on a regular basis. In addition to this, patients should visit their dentists at least once a year and they should take care to eat healthily and avoid regularly eating acidic and sugary foods. Patients that are prone to plaque build-up should consider visiting their dentist or hygienist more regularly for scaling treatments, which will help to prevent gum disease. Pregnant women are prone to gum disease and they are urged to take advantage of the free dental care provided by the NHS during their pregnancy (and for the first year after they have given birth).