Identifying, treating and preventing gum disease

Great oral hygiene doesn’t only mean making sure your teeth are clean and healthy; it also includes protecting and treating your gums to ensure your whole mouth is clean. If you don’t take care of your gums, you risk experiencing gum disease. If this isn’t treated early, you may end up with a serious oral health condition.

What is gum disease?

Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, or gingivitis, is the inflammation of the soft tissue and bone supporting the teeth because of a build-up of plaque and tartar. Plaque is a sticky film containing bacteria that coats your teeth, while tartar is a yellow or brown coloured deposit that forms when plaque hardens.

Signs of gum disease

Gum disease can start painlessly and almost unnoticeably. The first sign of trouble is when your gums become swollen, or they bleed when you brush or floss. Other things to look out for are:

  • Gum discolouration
  • Tender or swollen gums
  • Receding gums
  • Bad breath, or a bad taste in your mouth (halitosis)
  • Visible pus surrounding your teeth or gums
  • Loose teeth.

Causes of gum disease

Bacteria causes gingivitis when they feed on the sugars and food debris on your teeth to produce acids. When these combine with your saliva, plaque is formed. This bacteria-forming plaque is the primary cause of gum disease.

If you don’t brush or floss, the plaque builds up and can cause tartar, which is also known as calculus. Tartar is very hard and can only be removed by a professional dental clean. If it’s not treated, the plaque, tartar, and bacteria that causes gingivitis can begin infecting your gums and cause gum disease.

Plaque build-up is generally caused by:

  • Not brushing or flossing properly or regularly
  • Not visiting your dentist or oral hygienist regularly.

It’s important to note that you can remove plaque by brushing and flossing, but tartar can only be removed by visiting your dentist or oral hygienist who have the necessary expertise and specialised dental tools.

Other factors can contribute to gum disease, such as:

  • Genetics
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Hormone changes during puberty, pregnancy and menopause
  • Diabetes
  • Exposure to heavy metals
  • Certain medication
  • Illness.

Is there a difference between gingivitis and periodontitis?

Gum disease starts as gingivitis, which causes your gums to become red, swollen, and bleeding. As a mild form of gum disease, gingivitis can be reversed if it’s treated early and maintained with proper oral care.

Periodontitis is much more severe and occurs when gingivitis remains untreated and plaque forms below your gum-line. Periodontitis can be reversed through extensive dental treatment, which should be sought as early as possible.

If it’s not treated at this stage, advanced periodontitis can happen, which promotes further bacterial growth that causes serious damage to the bone supporting your teeth. This can result in swelling around the tooth root, pus in the periodontal pockets, or even loss of the tooth.

How do you treat gum disease?

An oral hygienist or dentist can cure gingivitis if it’s detected and acted upon early. They will follow a professional scaling procedure to remove tartar and bacteria from the surface of your teeth and below your gum line. It is then maintained by good oral hygiene, such as daily brushing and flossing.

Many people like to know how long it takes to get rid of gingivitis. The average time for gingivitis to heal is between 10 and 14 days after treatment, if supported with proper oral healthcare. Other forms of treatment include:

  • Root planing. This procedure smooths out the root surfaces and removes bacterial by-products that contribute to inflammation and delay healing, or reattachment of the gum to the tooth surfaces.
  • Antibiotics. These can either be topical or oral and they can help control bacterial infection. Examples of topical antibiotics are mouth rinses or gels you insert between your teeth and gums after deep cleaning.

Periodontitis requires a more extensive and invasive dental treatment, which can cause gum and bone loss in your mouth. Depending on how advanced the periodontitis is, your dentist may refer you to a dental specialist known as a periodontist, who can perform more advanced procedures to help regenerate the bone and tissue you have lost and cure gingivitis gum disease.

Mayo Clinic provides examples of periodontist procedures:

  • Flap surgery (pocket reduction surgery), where your periodontist makes tiny incisions in your gums so a section of the gum tissue can be lifted back, exposing the roots for more effective scaling and root planing.
  • Soft tissue grafts, where a small amount of tissue from the roof of your mouth (palate) or another source is removed and attached to the affected site. This helps reduce further gum recession, covers exposed roots, and helps your teeth look nicer.
  • Bone grafting, where the periodontist restores the bone surrounding your tooth root. The graft may be made of small fragments of your own bone, or the bone may be synthetic or donated. This helps prevent tooth loss by holding your tooth in place and it also acts as a platform for the regrowth of your own natural bone.
  • Guided tissue regeneration, where a special piece of fabric is placed between the existing bone and your tooth. This material prevents unwanted tissue from entering the affected area and allows your bone to grow back.
  • Tissue-stimulating proteins, which involves applying a special gel to the diseased tooth root. This gel contains the same proteins found in developing tooth enamel and stimulates the growth of healthy bone and tissue.

How to cure gum disease without a dentist

While there is a range of treatments available if gum disease is detected, there are ways you can help prevent it from happening in the first place. Here are some things you can do at home to reduce or prevent gum disease:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day or, for better results, after every meal or snack.
  • Use a soft toothbrush and replace it at least every three months.
  • Use a mechanical toothbrush, as they are more effective in cleaning plaque and tartar.
  • Floss daily.
  • Use a mouthwash to help reduce plaque between your teeth.
  • Supplement brushing and flossing with an interdental cleaner, such as a dental pick, interdental brush, or dental stick designed to clean between your teeth.
  • Visit your dentist regularly for a check-up.
  • Get a professional dental cleaning regularly from a dentist or oral hygienist.
  • Don’t smoke or chew tobacco.

How Hamilton Dental Centre can help you prevent or manage gum disease

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of gum disease, make an appointment to visit one of the skilled and experience staff at our Hamilton clinic today. One of our dentists will examine your teeth and gums thoroughly and give you advice and treatment or refer you to a specialist who can treat gingivitis and periodontitis.

Don’t delay! Book an appointment today to see Dr Dave or Dr Bashar.

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