Today is Gum Health Awareness Day and we’ve been busy taking our “ mouthies” and uploading them on Facebook and Twitter today. While we had a lot of fun taking our photos with gappy and missing teeth, gum disease is no laughing matter.
Your gums are the foundations of your smile, holding the teeth securely in place so that you can chew and eat properly. They play an important role not only in the mouth but also affect the health of your body. Healthy gums can prevent harmful bacteria from entering the bloodstream. Did you know that gum disease is a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis?
Gum disease is also one of the most common preventable diseases affecting more than 45% of adults in the UK and is the leading cause of tooth loss.
Many patients are unaware they have gum disease and that is why it is so important for us to help raise awareness and educate our patients because gum disease is preventable and treatable.
Bleeding gums, so what?
Have you noticed your gums bleed when you brush or floss? You might have thought it was nothing serious, that you had probably just brushed a bit too hard. You might have started to avoid brushing those areas because of the bleeding or soreness. It might be easy to ignore if you don’t think it is a problem, however bleeding gums is one of the earliest signs of gum disease and we should not dismiss these early warning signs.
So what is gum disease?
Healthy gums are pink and firm and they fit tightly around your teeth and help keep them in place.
If your gums are not healthy, they may look red, puffy and swollen and bleed. Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums. The inflammation is usually caused by bacteria in the plaque which irritate the gums. This inflammation can be easily reversed at this stage by thorough cleaning. If it is not treated, this inflammation can spread to the ligaments that hold your teeth in place and cause the gums to peel away from the teeth resulting in pockets in which more bacteria can collect. As this worsens, it starts affecting the surrounding jaw bone eventually leading to gradual loss of the supporting bone. This is called periodontitis.
What are the other signs of gum disease?
Bright red gums , swollen or puffy gums
Gaps between teeth (that weren’t there before)
Sore, tender or sensitive gums (especially when the dentist prods to check them)
Bad taste in the mouth
Pain or tenderness when eating
Painful gum abscesses (infections)
Teeth appear to be getting longer or thinner
Gaps between the teeth getting bigger
Teeth seem to have moved
Are all my my teeth going to fall out?
The good news is that for most people, gum disease is preventable, and early signs of gum disease can be reversed. So what can you do about it? Prevention is definitely better than the cure.
How to prevent gum disease
Maintain excellent oral hygiene – brush and floss (or use interdental brushes) twice daily
Visit the dentist and hygienist regularly – regular attendance is shown to be associated with better gum health (Adult Dental Health Survey 2009)
Stop smoking (or don’t start)
Feed your gums – make sure you have a well balanced diet
What if I already have gum disease?
It is important to see a dentist early for gum disease screening. If the dentist suspects gum disease, then a more detailed gum examination will be carried out to determine the extent and severity of the disease. Early stages of gum disease can be reversed by removing the plaque bacteria around the teeth and gums. There is usually a need for some professional cleaning of the teeth but it is very important to maintain the hygiene when you get home because seeing the hygienist once every couple of months is not going to improve your gums if you are not looking after them at home. There are various treatments available for gum disease which can help slow down the progress of gum disease and your dentist or hygienist can advise you on what is best for you. Most cases of gum disease can be successfully treated by a combination of professional cleaning and home maintenance. Sometimes more complex treatments are required and the dentist may refer you to a specialist.
Why me? Why do some people get gum disease and some don’t?
There are many things that can increase your risk of having gum disease. Some of these we can control and unfortunately some we cannot. Your genetics can play be a factor – if you have a family history of gum disease, you may be susceptible too. Certain medical conditions are a risk factor for gum disease, such as diabetes. Environmental and lifestyle factors can contribute to your risk of developing gum disease, these factors include stress, smoking, and poor nutrition. The biggest preventable risk factors is smoking and plaque.
Plaque is the sticky furry stuff you can feel on your teeth when you haven’t cleaned them. It is a sticky film of bacteria. If the plaque is not removed, toxins produced by bacteria can irritate the gums and cause inflammation. Minerals in the saliva can also cause plaque to harden into calculus (tartar). Calculus is rough and can cause plaque to stick to it and makes it harder for you the clean teeth properly, adding to the problem.
There is strong evidence that links smoking to gum disease, and there is also evidence that smoking affects how well the gums respond to treatment and heal.
Where can I get more information on gum disease?
There is a lot of great information on the British Society of Periodontology website
This document here has been specially prepared for patients from the FP prevention workshop
Gum Health Facts and Figures document produced by the European Federation of Periodontists can
be found here
Speak to Your Smile dentist or hygienist who will be happy to give you professional advice. Your dentist can also refer you to a specialist periodontist (a gum specialist) if necessary.