Gum disease is a common condition that affects up to nine out of ten people in the United Kingdom. This disease interests the tissues surrounding our teeth, causing swelling, redness and sometimes even pain in the gum region. Although too often ignored, gum disease, if left untreated, can affect the mouth greatly, and damage the bone and ligaments that hold the teeth in place.
But what is gum disease, exactly?
Also known as gingivitis, it is essentially an inflammation of the gums caused by an accrual of bacteria inside the mouth. Without proper treatment, this conditions progresses dramatically, and therefore a dentist should always evaluate the situation. In most cases, gum disease can be treated by your endodontist or even your dental hygienist, however, when it is ignored and remains unmanaged, it can lead to a very serious condition called periodontitis (or pyorrhea), which, in its final stages, also affects the bone and ligaments around the teeth, leading to tooth loss.
Improving your oral hygiene is the first and most crucial step to avoid both gum disease and periodontitis, and thus maintain a healthy mouth and a healthy body.
There are three main kinds of gum disease, each with its particular characteristics.
- Gingivitis: it can be considered to be the least severe type and is caused by the accumulation of plaque; a soft and pasty substance that sticks to your teeth and is mainly composed by different kinds of bacteria. You can remove plaque by brushing your teeth with care after each meal (three times a day) and by flossing on a regular basis. If you don’t, gum disease can emerge and lead to an inflammation, causing your gums to become swollen and red. Other, typical symptoms of gingivitis include bleeding while brushing your teeth.
- ANUG (Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis): a very serious kind of gingivitis characterized by a sudden and impromptu development. It is caused by a bacterial infection – also known as “trench mouth” – that leads to the emergence of halitosis (bad breath), ulcers, and swelling. It can be harrowing for the patient and must be treated by a dentist as soon as possible.
- Periodontal disease: the natural evolution of a bland – but untreated – gingivitis, it is characterized by a severe inflammation that spreads to the ligaments and bones that hold teeth in place. It becomes especially noticeable when gums seem to “pull away” and retract from your teeth, leaving the so-called “periodontal pockets,” where more plaque (and thus bacteria) accumulate. Once plaque hardens and turns into tartar (calculus), it becomes challenging to remove without the aid of a professional. Gums appear even more irritated and swollen, and infections can develop, causing abscesses underneath your gums. It is important to stress how leaving periodontal disease untreated leads to tooth loss.
How can you notice if you are suffering from gum disease? You should pay attention to specific symptoms and call your dentist for a check-up.
Let’s take a look at the first signs of gingivitis:
- Bleeding gums (while brushing your teeth or chewing)
- Swollen gums
- Reddened gums
If one, or more of these symptoms are present, it is essential not to ignore them and ask for a consultancy. Prevention is the key to avoid periodontal disease.