Gum disease

This is a very common dental condition which affects practically everyone at some time in their lives. It is mainly caused by a build up of plaque on the teeth which leads to red, swollen gums which bleed when brushed.

There are two types of gum disease: gingivitis and the more serious periodontitis.

What is gum disease?

This is a condition caused by a bacterial infection within a tooth or the mouth which affects the gums, causing an inflammation and in some cases, receding gums.

This is often caused by the presence of plaque – a sticky, bacterial substance found on the surface of the teeth which is not removed, targets the gums. These bacteria are responsible for the red, inflamed appearance of the gums which often bleed when brushed with a toothbrush.

Causes of gum disease

Tooth decay appears to the main culprit but there are a few other causes which include poor dental hygiene routine, medical conditions such as diabetes; a poorly functioning immune system and smoking.

Other factors include genetics, hormonal changes such as pregnancy or the menopause; stress and the side effects of certain medications.

All of these increase the number of bacteria in the mouth which are a known cause of infections such as this.  

Symptoms of gum disease

The characteristic symptoms of gum disease are:

  • Bad breath
  • Swollen (inflamed) gums
  • Loose teeth
  • Gums which bleed when brushed
  • Bad taste in the mouth
  • Highly sensitive teeth to hot and cold liquids
  • Receding gums
  • Abscesses

These symptoms appear in cases of gingivitis and periodontitis.

What happens is that the bacteria produce toxins which attack the tissue and bone of a tooth which causes them to die. This loss then results in a loosening of the tooth and in some cases, causes the tooth to fall out.

Risks of gum disease

Gingivitis is the milder form of this disease but if it left untreated then the risk is that it will lead to periodontitis which can cause tooth loss. The symptoms of gum disease worsen, resulting in the formation of abscesses in or around the tooth and pus, which is then released by the tooth.

The tooth becomes loose and may even fall out.

There is a condition called ‘acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis’ (ANUG) which has symptoms that are far worse than those for gingivitis or periodontitis. These are extremely unpleasant and include a fever, painful gums, difficulty in swallowing, swollen glands in the neck and an overall feeling of being unwell.

Fortunately this condition is rare.

Treatment for gum disease

Prevention is better than cure and certainly applies in this case. Following a good oral hygiene routine such as brushing your teeth at least twice a day, using dental floss and having regular check ups can help.

But if you have developed gum disease then any treatment is likely to be easier if it is caught at an early stage. This will be a scale and polish, antibiotics to ease any infection and root canal treatment which removes bacteria from within an infected tooth.

Surgery is another option but is only carried out in severe cases.

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