Gingivitis is a medical term for gum inflammation that can heal if you start brushing and flossing better. If your oral hygiene practices do not improve, gingivitis can lead to periodontitis which is the medical term for gum disease. Periodontitis means that there is gum inflammation followed by destruction of the gums and supporting structures of the teeth such as the bone and ligaments. Without good brushing, the bacteria in your mouth continues to stick around and they release toxic substances that can start destroying the bone, gums and ligaments making your tooth loose and eventually fall out.
Gum disease does not always impact your entire mouth, it can impact one or two teeth. This means it’s always important to get regular cleaning appointments with your dentist so they can keep an eye out for your gum health!
What causes gum disease?
Interestingly, your gums attach to your teeth below the level that you can see in the mirror (around 1-3mm lower). This is important because without flossing, this small pocket between your gums and your teeth can accumulate bacteria and food. Without brushing, the bacteria and food can also get stuck to the surfaces of your teeth near the gum line. Bacteria in both areas can cause irritation to the gums leading to inflammation. This is why good oral hygiene practices are important. Sometimes, our body is able to fight these bacteria and prevent serious amount of damage, but other times the body gets tired and is overwhelmed by the amount of bacteria in the mouth which can lead to gum disease.
How do I know if I have gum disease?
Sometimes, you don’t even know it’s there! This is why it is extremely important to have regular visits with your dentist so they can monitor any gum condition changes. Initially, gum disease can feel painless and may not be obvious when looking in the mirror. However, some questions you can ask yourself are:
- Do my gums feel swollen, enlarged, red or tender?
- Are my gums bleeding frequently after eating, brushing/flossing, randomly?
- Do I have regular bad breath?
- Do I have a bad taste lingering?
- Does my bite feel different? Do my teeth feel loose?
- Do I have pus or a pimple-like swelling on my gums?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it is worth having a conversation with your dentist as soon as possible to understand what might be causing these symptoms and how to manage them.
Risk factors for gum disease
Some known risk factors for gum disease are the following:
- Uncontrolled diabetes, smoking, chewing tobacco (leads to poor body response to fight bacteria)
- Certain medications that decrease saliva (unable to wash away the bacteria naturally)
- Poor oral hygiene (unable to remove the bacteria)
- Puberty/pregnancy (hormone changes can modify how the body responds to bacteria)
- Compromised immune system (HIV, cancer etc., can make it difficult for the body to respond to the bacteria)
What would a check-up appointment look like?
You may not have noticed, but your gum health is monitored at every cleaning appointment that you attend with your dentist! This consists of a visual examination to look at any abnormal swellings, the colour, texture, shape and size of the gums and how deep your pockets are by using a measurement tool called a periodontal probe. X-rays also help the dentist know if any bone loss has occurred which gives us more information on what stage of gum disease you may have.
How do you treat gum inflammation and gum disease?
Gum inflammation can be treated easily by removing the bacteria with good brushing and flossing habits. Brushing twice daily with fluoridated toothpaste and flossing once a day can help prevent gum inflammation. Inflammation can also be reduced by decreasing the amount an individual smokes, getting relevant medical help to aid in controlling diabetes, or modifying your diet. It is also important to get regular cleanings done by your dentist to remove the bacteria that is too hard, and deep for you to reach with your own toothbrush and floss. Generally, this is recommended to be every 6-12 months.
Unfortunately, if the inflammation has progressed and caused bone loss, ligament loss, loose teeth, or deeper pockets, more treatment may be required. This can include antibiotic medications, additional deep cleanings, and/or surgery.
It’s important to book regular appointments with your dentist to prevent the disease from starting or progressing further. Gum disease damage can be irreversible and stopping its progression can keep your smile happy for many more years. Book in an appointment today!