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Gum disease is the most common oral ailment requiring treatment and can afflict individuals from a very early age through the elderly years. Known as Periodontitis, gum disease, if left untreated, can result in tooth and jaw bone loss and severe infection.
Although extremely common (50-90% of adults suffer from it), gum disease is also one of the most easily preventable and treatable issues in dentistry. Pursuing and maintaining a regular oral hygiene routine can, in itself, ward off gum disease for a lifetime.
What can cause gum disease?
Gum disease, sometimes referred to as gingivitis by your dentist, is caused by a build-up of plaque on the teeth due to poor or irregular oral hygiene. Plaque develops on the tooth surface when food debris combines with the natural bacteria in the mouth. This process helps in digestion, but also leaves a bacteria-laden film on the teeth. This film, if not removed through good brushing habits, will eventually harden into plaque and then into the hard crust known as tartar, which must be removed by your dental hygienist.
Plaque and tartar build-up traps bacteria onto the tooth surface, irritates the gums and produces an environment that is ripe for infection and decay.
What are the symptoms of gum disease?
Healthy gums should be firm, pink and hold the teeth securely in place. Additionally, they should not bleed or be tender to the touch.
Any change in the colour, shape, or tenderness of your gums should be reported to your dentist.
The first symptoms most commonly experienced in the beginnings of gum disease are:
- Swollen, red gum tissue
- Bleeding gums when brushing teeth
- Tender gums when brushing
Additional symptoms may be experienced, if the initial symptoms are not treated immediately:
- An unpleasant taste and bad breath
- Receding gums
- Teeth sensitivity to hot or cold foods
- Loose teeth
- Abscesses or pus seeping from gums
- Tooth loss
How can I avoid getting gum disease?
Gum disease is the most easily avoided oral ailment and yet is also the most commonly experienced. Adults must maintain effective, regular oral hygiene routines, including regularly scheduled visits to their dentist and dental hygienist to ensure they remain free of gum disease.
Gum disease normally is a slowly developing problem that can be arrested, cured and recovered from if your dentist is alerted as soon as you experience any symptoms. If you maintain regular dentist visits, your dentist will include gum disease prevention examinations that further protect you from suffering this very preventable health issue.
How does my dentist diagnose gum disease?
Your dentist has a number of very effective tools and examination procedures to diagnose if you have gum disease, including:
- Visual exam to determine and identify the primary symptoms
- Examination of gum recession and infection pockets using a specially designed probe
- X-rays to determine the extent of damage to the teeth and jaw bone
Your dentist will inform you of the extent of your gum disease and the recommended course of treatment to regain your oral health.
As always, the sooner you involve your dentist in the health of your gums, the less extensive and involved your gum disease treatment is likely to be – and the sooner you will heal.
What gum disease treatments will my dentist use?
A number of gum disease treatments are available to resolve your gum disease problems. Your dentist will discuss the treatments that are best recommended for your stage of gum disease, and may include:
- Scaling and polishing
This treatment is a professional cleaning that removes the plaque and tartar from your teeth using a special instrument. Removal of these damaging bacteria-holders allows your gums to stop being irritated, swollen, bleeding, and at risk for infection. This procedure may be done more than once to ensure the best results.
- Root planning
This treatment cleans bacteria from the roots of your teeth. An anaesthetic is used to numb the area thoroughly before any treatment begins. There may be some mild discomfort following the treatment, but your dentist will discuss this potential with you and will ensure you are comfortable.
In extreme cases, where a tooth cannot be saved due to gum disease, extraction may be the only option available. As in all treatments, your comfort is of utmost importance and every effort is taken to ensure it and to inform you of each step involved in the surgery.
What can I do to prevent gum disease?
Gum disease can be avoided through preventative routines that protect your gums from disease by not allowing bacteria to collect on gum tissue and tooth surfaces.
A few simple and efficient oral hygiene steps can keep you and your smile safe from gum disease, ensuring robust oral health for a lifetime:
- Brush your teeth using techniques demonstrated by your dentist or dental hygienist for 2-3 minutes twice daily
- Use a fluoride toothpaste for decay protection
- Floss your teeth at least once a day, as a complement to brushing
- Visit your dentist and dental hygienist regularly for examinations and professional cleanings
- Avoid lifestyle choices that undermine your health and directly affect your oral health, such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption