Healthy gums are a key part of every healthy and beautiful smile. If your gums are swollen, inflamed, or hurt when your brush, it could be a sign of gum disease. But what exactly is gum disease? 

What is gum disease?

Gum disease is an inflammation of the gum line which can eventually affect the bone that supports your teeth. All gum disease starts with a bacterial growth in your mouth, and can result in tooth loss and gum decay if left untreated.There are three kinds of gum disease – from least to most severe – gingivitis, periodontitis and advanced periodontitis.

What is gingivitis?

Gingivitis, or gum inflammation usually precedes periodontitis. However, this does not mean that all gingivitis will lead to gum disease. 

Gingivitis is caused by plaque build up, which happens due to improper brushing. Plaque is the soft, sticky, clear film of bacteria that forms in your mouth when food particles are present for a prolonged time. If not removed, the buildup of plaque causes your gums to become inflamed and bleed easily when you brush your teeth. Even though the gums are sore and inflamed at this stage, the bone and connective tissue is unaffected, meaning any damage can be reversed.

What is periodontitis?

If gingivitis is allowed to progress to periodontitis, the inner layer of gum and bone moves away from the teeth and form small gaps. These tiny pockets can collect debris and become infected. The toxins produced by the plaque bacteria start to break down the bone and connective tissues that hold your teeth in place. As periodontitis continues, the pockets get progressively worse and the damage to your gums and bone worsens. At a certain point, your teeth will no longer be held in place, become loose, and fall out.

What else can cause gum disease apart from plaque?

  • Changes in hormones – such as during menstruation, pregnancy, puberty and menopause can make gums more sensitive and more susceptible to gingivitis
  • Illnesses – some illnesses can affect the condition of your gums. This includes HIV and cancer because they weaken the immune system, and diabetes because it increases the risk of infections.
  • Medications that affect oral health
  • Genetics – Family history of dental disease can increase the risk of gingivitis
  • Bad habits- such as smoking can affect how gum tissue heals
  • Poor oral hygiene – can increase the risk of gingivitis

Gum disease symptoms

Gum disease can develop painlessly, and show very few obvious signs. The following symptoms may seem harmless, but can actually be warning signs you have gum disease:

  • Swollen or tender gums
  • Gums that bleed after brushing
  • Bad breath or a bad taste in mouth that doesn’t go away
  • Deep pockets around base of teeth
  • Loose teeth
  • Receding gums

How does my dentist diagnose gingivitis/gum disease?

  • During a dental examination, the following things are checked:
  • Gum bleeding, swelling
  • Pocket depth
  • Teeth movement and sensitivity
  • Your jawbone, to assess for any breakdown

How is it treated?

All gum disease treatments aim to:

  • Reduce swelling, the depth of pockets and infection.
  • Promote the reattachment of gums to teeth
  • Stop disease progression

Treatment options vary depending on personal condition and the stage of disease. Treatments range from nonsurgical therapies such as scaling and root planing, to surgeries such as soft tissue grafts.

How can it be prevented?

Gingivitis and gum disease can be controlled in almost all cases when proper plaque control is executed. This involves brushing and flossing at least twice a day, and professional dental cleanings every 6 months.

Other factors that can help in the prevention of gum disease include:

  • Stop smoking – smoking can increase your risk of gum disease by up to 7 times
  • Reduce stress – stress can affect your body’s immune system
  • Maintain a healthy diet – Antioxidant rich foods can promote tissue regeneration
  • Avoid clenching or grinding your teeth – excess force on the gums can speed up gum decay