Gum Disease – What Is It And What Can You Do To Prevent It?

gum disease

Gum disease is an inflammation of the gums that becomes severe if left untreated, and can even affect the bone structure that supports your teeth. There are three stages of the disease – gingivitis, periodontitis, and advanced periodontitis.

Some advanced stages can even cause the loss of teeth. So if you have inflamed or bleeding gums at the beginning stages of gingivitis, it’s a good idea to visit your nearest dental clinic.

Here is a closer look at what different stages of gum diseases look like.

Gingivitis

This is the mildest form of periodontal disease and presents as gums that are swollen, red, or that bleed easily. Typically, the patient does not experience much discomfort at this stage except for bad breath and bleeding while brushing.

Usually caused by inadequate oral care, it can be easily reversed with a couple of visits to the dentist and a good regimen of oral hygiene at home. Some of the other factors that may contribute gingivitis include diseases like diabetes, HIV infection, systemic diseases, and other age-related and lifestyle factors such as smoking, stress, inadequate nutrition, substance abuse, genetic predisposition etc.

Early treatment is very effective in getting rid of the problem completely. However, if left unattended, it may progress to the next stage of periodontitis.

Periodontitis

Periodontitis is caused by toxins produced by oral bacteria, which lead to plaque growing and spreading below the gum line. The toxins trigger the inflammatory response of the body, leading to the tissues and bone surrounding the tooth breaking down in an attempt to get rid of the infection. Gums start separating from the teeth and pockets form between the gum line and teeth. Over time, the pockets deepen, leading to the destruction of more gum tissue and bone.

Eventually, the teeth may come loose and may have to be removed.

Advanced periodontitis

Aggressive or advanced periodontitis can occur even in patients who are otherwise healthy. Common symptoms of this stage of gum disease include rapid loss of gum tissue and bone. Usually it is limited only to some areas of the mouth, but it can also affect the whole mouth.

Severe infection may lead to acute necrotizing periodontal disease. It is characterized by spontaneous bleeding of the gums, black, dead gum tissue, foul odour, blunted gum tissue and onset of pain without warning.

How can you prevent periodontal diseases?

Periodontal disease is caused by the buildup of bacterial plaque. There are a few things that contribute to the advancement of the disease.

The following are some factors that can lead to or make the infection worse once it sets in. Be mindful of these and you will have a reasonable chance of living your life without worrying about periodontitis.

Genetic factors

Some people have a genetic predisposition to gum disease. However, this does not mean that infection is inevitable. Even if you have a genetic makeup that makes you highly susceptible to periodontal diseases, you can still prevent the disease with the help of a strict regimen of oral hygiene.

Misaligned teeth, braces, or bridgework

Gum infection is caused by bacterial toxins that lead to plaque and tartar formation. So anything that makes it difficult to clean your teeth properly can increase the likelihood of your teeth and gums harbouring bacteria and developing an infection. If you find it difficult to clean your teeth due to misalignment, perhaps you need to get that corrected at a dental clinic. If dental work such as braces and bridgework are causing problems, then ask your dentist to show you the best way to clean your teeth. There are also special tools to clean bridgework and ways of threading floss around the braces.

Smoking

It is commonly seen that there is a higher incidence of periodontal disease among smokers. If you have slight gum infection already, smoking can aggravate it rapidly. More tartar and plaque are likely to collect on the teeth of smokers. This leads to the development of deeper gum pockets and loss of bone. Smoking is one of the factors that you can control to prevent the risk of developing periodontal diseases.

Hormonal fluctuations

Fluctuating hormones are often found to have an impact on the health of teeth. During puberty and pregnancy, when the body is flush with hormones, there is a higher chance of developing and aggravating gum diseases. Menopause can also be a likely factor.

Stress and diseases

Stress generally weakens the body’s immune system, thus making it harder to fight off infections including infection of the gums. Certain diseases such as diabetes, inflammatory bowel diseases, and HIV infection can also increase the risk of developing gum infection. If you are under stress or are suffering from any of these diseases, a good periodontist will be able to offer the kind of guidance and help that is required to take extra care of your teeth and prevent infection.

Treating periodontal diseases

With early treatment, you can successfully arrest and reverse the gum infection. Even in severe cases, you may be able to save your teeth if you get the required treatment.

Once periodontal disease is identified, the goals of the treatment include:

– Arresting and preventing further aggravation of the disease
– Making it easier to maintain the gum and teeth
– Restoring gum tissue, bone, and ligaments which may have been affected by infection

Deep cleaning

Once the disease is identified, the first step is to clean the mouth and teeth thoroughly. Scaling and polishing can get rid of bacteria to a significant extent. Sometimes, curettage of some gum tissue may also be necessary.

Hardened plaque or tartar cannot be cleaned by normal brushing and flossing. You need special dental equipment to break them away. The dental professional will scrape the plaque off from above and below the gum line, with special ultrasonic equipment. After cleaning the teeth, the teeth are polished, making it harder for plaque to deposit.

If you notice significant improvement in the inflammation after cleaning, only observation is needed for the next few weeks. With proper oral care at home, you may not even need further treatment. If dental abscesses are present, you may need surgery.

Curettage or surgery

Gingival curettage involves removing the soft tissue lining of periodontal pockets with the aim of completely removing infection. This is often done along with the scaling and root planing treatment, if the dentist deems it appropriate.

Surgery

Severe infections may warrant surgery which involves lifting of the gum flap away from the tooth and surrounding bone. The root surfaces that are diseased are scraped away and cleaned to remove hardened deposits. The gum tissue is then replaced in such a way as to reduce the depth of the pockets.

Post-surgery, your dentist may prescribe medication to manage the pain and inflammation.

The latest news in periodontal care is a new vaccine that has been developed by the University of Melbourne. However, the vaccine is still in the early stages and clinical trials with patients are set to begin in 2018. The research team is hopeful that the vaccine could be made available by 2022.

For now, you still have to take care of your teeth the good old way. Even if you have gum infection already, don’t worry. Catch it at the initial stages and you will have a complete recovery. Even in advanced stages, with aggressive treatment you may still be able to save your teeth.

Don’t hesitate to contact your dentist as early as possible if you suspect you may have gum infection.

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