What Is Gum Disease?

Gum, or periodontal disease, is an infection of the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth. It is the major cause of tooth loss in adults. Because gum disease is usually painless, you may be unaware you have it.

 Gum disease is caused by plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that constantly forms on the teeth. These bacteria create toxins that can damage the gums.

 The early stage of gum disease is called gingivitis. During this stage, the gums can become red, swollen and bleed easily. At this stage, the disease is still reversible and can usually be eliminated by daily brushing and flossing.

 In the more advanced stages of gum disease, called periodontitis, the gums and bone that support the teeth can become seriously damaged.

The damage is progressive and for the most part irreversible.

The teeth can ultimately become loose, fall out or have to be removed.

There are several forms of periodontitis, mainly differentiated by the age the damage starts and its severity and the speed of progression.

The progress of gum disease is erratic and unpredictable.

How do I get it?

There are several risk factors for periodontal disease.  There is evidence to show that some people are genetically more likely to get gum disease. Around 15% of the population are very susceptible to gum disease and generally get a lot of damage as young adults. Another 15% are almost immune, and the rest of the population are susceptible to some degree.
As a rough guide, 50% is genetic susceptibility and 50% is environmental - smoking and brushing

It is also clear that once you have been shown to be susceptible then you are always at risk of the disease returning.

Smokers are far more likely to get severe destructive gum disease. (see the associated leaflet)
The disease is also far more resistant to treatment in smokers, and it may not be controllable if they do not stop smoking.

Diabetics are also more prone to gum disease and decay.

One group of blood-pressure pills known as calcium channel blockers, and an anti-epileptic drug, phenytoin, can cause the gum edges to overgrow. This makes plaque control very difficult, which promotes gum disease.

Overall Health issues

There is evidence to associate gum disease with an increased risk of heart attacks and stroke and increased diabetic control problems.

Normal, healthy gums

Healthy gums and bone anchor the teeth firmly in place.

Bacterial plaque build-up is minimal.

Periodontitis

Unremoved plaque hardens into calculus (tartar) with plaque on the surface.

As plaque and calculus continue to build up, the point of attachment of the gums

 to the teeth begins to move down the tooth root and deepening pockets form

between the teeth and gums.

Advanced Periodontitis

The gums recede further, or the pockets become deeper as more of the

bone around the teeth is lost. Teeth-even unfilled teeth-may become

loose and need to be extracted.

How can I prevent gum disease?

The good news is that you can help prevent gum disease by taking good care of your teeth every day and having regular dental check-ups.

Here's how to keep your teeth and gums healthy:

Brush your teeth well twice a day.

This removes the film of bacteria from the teeth. Be sure to use a medium-bristled, small-headed toothbrush that is in good condition.

Clean between your teeth every day.

Cleaning between your teeth with floss or interdental cleaners removes bacteria and food particles from between the teeth. This is important as your toothbrush cannot reach these areas.

Visit your dentist or hygienist regularly.

It is important to have regular dental check-ups, and professional cleaning if you have periodontal disease. Once calculus (tartar) is formed, it cannot be removed by standard cleaning; it will require cleaning by a dentist or hygienist.

Once you have had one of the damaging forms of gum disease you are always going to be susceptible to getting them again.

What to Look For:

 If you notice any of the following signs of gum disease, a professional assessment by a dentist would be advisable

  • gums that bleed when you brush your teeth
  • red, swollen or tender gums
  • gums that have pulled away from the teeth
  • bad breath that doesn't go away
  • pus between your teeth and gums
  • loose teeth
  • a change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  • a change in the fit of partial dentures