Periodontal (gum) disease is a condition that affects many adults. It’s an insidious disease which can easily be unnoticed by the patient. Gum disease can be treated if it’s diagnosed early. We work with our patients to prevent the occurrence of dental diseases like gum disease.
If the disease is allowed to progress without intervention, its impact on the patient can be significant and even devastating.
What Is Gum Disease?
Gum disease is an inflammation of the gums and, in severe cases, the bone that surrounds teeth. In the short video below, the Australian Dental Association provides a great explanation of gum disease.
What Are The Different Types of Gum Disease?
There are three stages of gum disease:
- Advanced periodontitis
“Gingivitis” means “inflammation of the gums”. Typically it’s a relatively mild condition and is usually reversible.
“Periodontitis” means “inflammation of the periodontium,” which is the bony socket and soft tissue that holds teeth in place in the jaw. If this condition is allowed to advance without treatment, periodontitis can lead to the loosening and loss of teeth.
What Are The Symptoms Of Gum Disease?
Signs of the first stage of gum disease are easy to miss or ignore. A patient might not notice the bleeding, redness or puffiness of the gums that accompanies this stage of the disease. There is seldom any pain associated with gingivitis.
As the disease progresses, signs and symptoms are more obvious to the patient, and may include:
- Bleeding of the gums
- Redness and puffiness of the gums
- Receding gums
- An obvious buildup of tartar
- Accumulation of food between the teeth
- Bad breath or an unpleasant taste in the mouth
- Tooth movement, which can affect the bite or the fit of appliances like dentures
- Loose teeth
- Tooth loss
What Causes Gum Disease?
There are several factors that together lead to the development of gum disease.
Bacteria are a significant causative factor. The human mouth is full of many different kinds of bacteria, and some types accumulate to form a thin, sticky and invisible film that can be removed by brushing and flossing. Dentists refer to this bacterial film as “plaque.”
If plaque is not removed regularly, it can harden into a cement-like crust called tartar. Tartar can only be removed by having a professional clean by a dentist or hygienist. The longer plaque and tartar are in contact with your gums, the more likely you are to develop periodontal disease.
Aside from improper brushing and flossing, other risk factors for developing gum disease include:
- Hormonal changes
- Other systemic illnesses
- Some medications
How Does the Dentist Diagnose Gum Disease?
The Periodontal Probe
Dr Teo may then use a small hand instrument, a periodontal probe, to gently explore the natural cuff of gum around each tooth. She may note:
- Bleeding – Inflamed gums bleed easily with the gentlest touch
- The presence of tartar under the gums which is easily detected with the probe
- “Pocket Depth” – A millimetre scale on the probe allows Dr Teo to measure the depth of the gum cuff (called the “pocket”). Any measurement greater than 3mm may be indicative of periodontitis.
Dental x-rays can be used to detect
- The presence of tartar under the gums
- Bone loss around teeth
How Is Gum Disease Treated?
Gingivitis will often respond well to a thorough professional cleaning of the teeth, followed by meticulous home care. Plaque must be removed by the patient on a daily basis, so effective tooth brushing and flossing (interdental cleaning) is essential.
If periodontitis is diagnosed, a deeper cleaning called ‘root planing’ will be necessary so that deposits of tartar and soft plaque can be removed from the gum pockets. This may need to be carried out under a local anaesthetic and may need to be done more regularly than every 6 months; this will be determined based on your individual condition.
Advanced periodontitis may require intervention by a dental specialist, a periodontist. Dr Teo will arrange a referral if necessary.
Unfortunately, it is sometimes necessary to remove teeth if the gums and bony sockets have been significantly damaged. Dr Teo will recommend options to replace missing teeth should this be the case.
Preventing Gum Disease
To prevent gum disease:
- Have regular check-ups. Early detection and treatment are key to preventing tooth loss
- Brush and floss (clean interdentally) daily – and do it well! If plaque bacteria are removed on a daily basis, there is a much lower risk of developing gum disease
- Have professional teeth cleaning as often as needed, especially if you are prone to a buildup of tartar
- Take care of yourself. A healthy body is less likely to succumb to inflammatory diseases
- Don’t ignore the signs of gum disease. If you notice blood when you are brushing, flossing or eating, take note and visit your dentist if it doesn’t resolve within five days.