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 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 a plaque build up, which happens due to improper brushing. Plaque is the soft, sticky, transparent film of bacteria forming 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 easily bleed when you brush your teeth. Even though the gums are sore and inflamed at this stage, the bone and connective tissue are unaffected, meaning any damage can be reversed.
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 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):
- Advanced periodontitis
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, such as 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 visible signs. The following symptoms may seem harmless, but can be warning signs you have gum disease:
- Swollen or tender gums
- Gums that bleed after brushing
- Bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth that doesn’t go away
- Deep pockets around the 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 the 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 with brushing and flossing at least twice a day, and professional dental cleanings every six 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