Though it can be extremely destructive to your health if left untreated, gum disease is more common than you may think. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 2 in 5 adults in the U.S. are affected by gum disease (ranging from mild to severe.)
Knowing the early signs of gum disease can help you more effectively protect your oral health as well as your overall health. That is why we’ve put together this article that breaks down what gum disease is, the signs of gum disease to look out for, and what you can do to reverse early symptoms.
What is Gum Disease Exactly?
Also known as periodontitis when it is in the more advanced stages, gum disease is an infection of the gums around your teeth. Most often caused by poor oral hygiene, it progressively weakens the soft tissues that hold the teeth in place. When it is caught early enough, gum disease is usually reversible. However, severe, more advanced cases of this disease can lead to tooth loss due to permanent damage within the jawbone.
What Causes Gum Disease
More than 6 billion different bacteria live in your mouth, on average. Luckily, a lot of this is “good” bacteria. The good bacteria helps break down food and protect our teeth and gums by fighting off infections.
But, there’s also the not-so-good kind of bacteria that can cause gum disease and tooth decay. This bad bacteria feeds on the sugars and starches in your mouth and releases a damaging acid. This acid attacks the enamel on your teeth and promotes the formation of the sticky substance known as plaque.
Plaque coats your teeth in a film that builds up and hardens, forming tartar. This tartar can work its way below your gum line, where it won’t be properly cleaned out by simply brushing your teeth. When plaque and tartar build up and are left untreated, it will cause gum disease, damage your teeth, and can lead to tooth decay or even tooth loss.
5 Warning Signs of Gum Disease
There are some specific red flags to look out for that can indicate the onset of gum disease. Catching it early will improve the chances of being able to sufficiently treat and reverse the disease. If you notice any of the following, it’s time to schedule an appointment with your dentist ASAP:
#1 – Bleeding Gums When Brushing & Flossing
One of the most common and earliest signs of gum disease is bleeding gums. Surprisingly, many people ignore blood on their toothbrush. But, this warning sign means that your gums are on their way to the advanced stages of gum disease. The good news is you can catch it now and, with the appropriate treatment, help restore your oral health. If you see blood when you brush, don’t just shrug it off. Schedule a checkup with your dentist to determine what the best approach is to reverse the onset of gum disease.
#2 – Redness and Swelling of Your Gums
Red, swollen gums are another early indication of gum disease. This can occur in one isolated area or across the gum line entirely. This inflammation is caused by irritation due to the build-up of bacteria and tartar.
When this happens, your gums will usually be sensitive to both touch and extreme temperatures, causing pain when exposed to cold or hot liquids or foods. Fortunately, visiting your dentist’s office for a deep cleaning can get your gum health back to a healthy place. (See more on this below)
#3 – Receding Gum Line
When this symptom appears, gum disease has progressed to a much more serious level. When the gums start to recede, it leaves the tooth’s root exposed and makes the tooth appear longer. This gives bacteria the opportunity to eat away at the root, which will lead to tooth decay and possibly the need for extraction. Treatment for this level of gum disease includes root planing and scaling and the use of antibiotics (more on this below.) If there is significant gum recession then a gum tissue graft may be necessary to restore the gum line to a healthy level.
#4 – Persistent Bad Breath
One of the top causes of foul-smelling breath is gum disease. Called anaerobes, the damaging bacteria that causes gum disease has a distinct odor, sometimes referred to as “perio breath.” This foul smell is due to the fact that vital bone is literally starting to die off.
Source: ADA – Mouth Healthy
#5 – Loose Teeth
Bacterial infections due to gum disease can form pockets below the gum line. This causes the gum tissue to separate from the root of the tooth. Then, if tooth decay sets in also, you will likely experience sensitivity, pain, and slight movement of the tooth. Without treatment, this can become a serious problem and may result in the need for extraction.
The common treatment in this scenario is known as pocket reduction. This is a procedure that brings the gum tissue back into contact with the root of the tooth. Also, antibiotics will usually be used and applied to the gum area to eliminate the bacterial infection.
Keep in mind that sometimes gum disease doesn’t show much warning until it has reached a severe stage. That is why maintaining a routine of teeth cleanings every 6 months is so important. At these visits, your dentist will examine your mouth and determine the best prevention methods or treatment plan for any gum disease.
Treatment of Gum Disease
The good thing is that, in many cases, gum disease can be treated and reversed. Depending on the severity, there are several options when it comes to methods of treatment:
More Intensive At-Home Dental Hygiene Routine
In mild cases of gum disease, which is technically referred to as gingivitis, it can largely be reversed by improved and more intensive dental care at home. This includes thoroughly brushing for 2 minutes twice a day (especially using an electric toothbrush), flossing daily, and sometimes rinsing daily with a prescription mouthwash for your gums.
Make sure to check out our article on ways you can improve your gum health to learn more about 7 specific ways you can help your gums stay as healthy as possible.
Unfortunately, more conscious and thorough brushing and flossing aren’t always enough to sufficiently remove plaque. In fact, for more severe cases, not even regular teeth cleanings at the dentist’s office will be enough to totally remove plaque and tartar. That’s where deep teeth cleanings come in.
At these appointments, your dental hygienist will use specialized techniques and cleaning devices to thoroughly remove plaque and tartar from your teeth, clean below the gum line, and clean the roots. Two methods that are usually used during a deep cleaning are scaling and root planing.
Scaling is the removal of bacteria and tartar from the surface of the teeth and beneath the gums using specialized tools (often an ultrasonic device.) Root planing is a technique used to smoothen the surface of the roots and discourage further tarter and bacteria buildup. It also removes bacterial byproducts that cause inflammation and delay the healing or reattachment of the gum to the teeth.
Topical and/or oral antibiotics are also often used to help control bacterial infection within the gums. Topical antibiotics include antibiotic mouth rinses or the application of antibiotic gel into the space between your gums and teeth. Sometimes, oral antibiotics may also be necessary to completely eliminate any infection-causing bacteria.
In cases of advanced, severe periodontitis, a surgical treatment approach may be needed. Some of the surgical treatment methods include:
- Pocket reduction surgery (flap surgery)
- Soft tissue grafting
- Bone grafts
- Tissue-stimulating proteins
- Guided tissue regeneration
Make the Effort to Improve and Protect Your Gum Health
Your gum health plays a significant role in your overall health and is not something you can afford to take for granted. Of course, the best case scenario is to prevent gum disease in the first place by keeping up with routine teeth cleanings. But, if you have noticed any of the above early signs of gum disease and are concerned about your gum health, make an appointment with your dentist’s office today. The sooner you take action, the easier it will be to restore and maintain healthy gums.
If you’re worried about gum disease, have questions about possible treatment options for your gums, or are looking for more tips on gum disease prevention, Radomile Family Dental Care is here to help! Our experienced and compassionate dental team can answer any questions that you may have and create a personalized treatment plan to help restore and maintain optimal gum health.
Schedule your appointment today!