If you have ever been told that you have periodontal (gum) disease, you're not alone. Many adults in Australia currently have some form of the disease. There are varying stages of periodontal disease and can range from inflammation of the gums to serious disease that damages the soft tissue and bone that support the teeth. In severe cases of the disease, teeth can fall out and the jaw bone weakens.
Periodontal disease is often correlated with poor oral hygiene. In order to reduce the likelihood of developing gum disease, it is important to look after your teeth and gums by practising oral hygiene habits.
What causes gum disease?
Our mouths are full of bacteria, mucus and other particles that constantly cause a sticky colourless 'plaque' on your teeth. Daily oral habits such as brushing and flossing help remove plaque. Plaque that is not removed can harden and will form 'tartar' that brushing with find hard to remove. Only a professional clean by a dentist or dental hygienist can remove the tartar.
The longer the plaque and tartar remain on the teeth, the more harmful they become to your gums and teeth. The bacteria may cause the gums to inflame, this is called 'Gingivitis'. If you suffer from gingivitis you will experience red or swollen gums, or gums that bleed easily. Gingivitis is one of the mildest forms of gum disease that can usually be reversed with daily brushing and flossing and biannual cleans from a professional dentist or hygienist. This mild form of gum disease does not include any loss of bone and tissue that hold teeth in place.
When gingivitis is not treated, it can advance to 'periodontitis' (inflammation around the teeth). Periodontitis causes your gums. to pull away from the teeth and form spaces (called 'pockets') that are easily infected. The body's immune system fights the bacteria as the plaque spreads and grows from the gum line. The body's natural response to infection, along with bacterial infections start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold your teeth in place. If this progressive periodontal treatment is not treated, the bones, gums and tissue that support the teeth are destroyed. The teeth may eventually may loosen and may either fall out or may have to be removed.
How do I know if I have gum disease?
- Bad breath
- Gums that bleed, especially after brushing or flossing
- Red or swollen gums
- Painful chewing
- Teeth sensitivity
- Receding gums or teeth that may appear longer than usual
How is gum disease treated?
Treatment will depend on the severity of the gum disease. Prevention is ultimately the best treatment, by maintaining good oral habits. Deep cleaning (also known as scaling and root planing) is also a common treatment for gum disease. Scaling means scraping off the tartar from above and below the gum line. Root planing gets rid of rough spots on the tooth root where the germs gather and helps to remove bacteria that contribute to the disease.
Medications can also be used in conjunction with scaling treatments and root planing. Surgery may be required for late stages of gum disease that involve teeth extraction.