What is gum disease?
Periodontal disease, or gum disease, is a chronic bacterial infection of the gums and bone supporting the teeth, affecting one or more teeth. A milder form – gingivitis – can be reversed by professional dental scaling, followed by regular brushing and flossing. But if left untreated, it can progress to periodontitis, where the gums, bone and connective tissue are damaged, causing tooth loss.
What causes it?
The main cause is bacterial plaque which hardens and forms tartar over time. As the plaque grows, the body’s immune system fights the bacteria. The toxins mix with the enzymes to break down and destroy the bone and connective tissue holding the teeth in place. If unchecked, the teeth may eventually become loose and have to be removed. Gum disease can range from mild to severe and can affect people of any age.
What can predispose you to it?
Smoking can increase the risk of getting periodontal disease and lessen the success of some treatments. Uncontrolled diabetes also increases the risk of infection. Hormonal changes in women’s bodies can make the gums more sensitive. Certain oral medication, treatments for cancer and AIDS, plus general susceptibility can all contribute towards increasing the risk.
What are its symptoms?
They include swollen, puffy and tender gums which bleed when brushed, a receding gum line, abscesses, teeth that are shaky or drifting out of position, persistent bad breath and a dull ache in the gums or teeth. Some people have no symptoms or pain.
How is it treated?
Treatment varies but is aimed at controlling the gum infection and restoring good oral health. Non-surgical treatment includes scaling and root planing. Scaling involves scraping away tartar from above and below the gum line. In root planing, tough tartar and bacteria deposits along the root surfaces are removed with special instruments while the patient is on local anaesthesia.
Gum surgery serves to remove residual tartar in deep, unresolved periodontal pockets. The aim is to control the disease progression and make the area easier to clean at home. In patients with more advanced disease, gum surgery may be needed. The periodontist may sometimes suggest bone or tissue grafts to encourage new growth of bone or tissue to replace the damaged areas.
How do you prevent gum disease?
Brush your teeth with a toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste twice a day, or after every meal, to minimise plaque buildup. Use interdental aids like an interdental brush or floss daily. Visit the dentist twice a year for checkups and professional cleaning. Don’t use tobacco products. If you smoke, quit.
Can gum disease affect other parts of the body?
It is possible but, so far, research has been inconclusive. However, studies are ongoing to see if there is a link between gum disease and an increased risk of heart attack, stroke or delivering pre-term/low weight babies, and whether diabetics with gum disease have greater difficulty controlling their blood sugar levels.
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