Learn how to prevent gum disease and keep your teeth and smile looking great. Get practical advice on keeping your gums healthy.
Gum disease or periodontal disease is a disease afflicting the gum and bone tissues that fix and support your teeth. Symptoms can vary widely.
What most people don’t realize is that gum disease can be largely painless, even into its advanced stages.
Gum disease is characterized by three stages of progression.
Gingivitis always precedes the more advanced stages of gum disease or periodontitis.
In most cases, gum disease is caused by poor oral hygiene. This is turn leads to the build-up of harmful bacteria, particularly along the tooth and gum lining and in the spaces between teeth.
However, other health conditions, poor diet, and habits can make one more susceptible to this disease.
The more advanced stages of this disease are serious. They require a professional response and care.
In addition periodontitis and advanced periodontitis can be the cause of inflammation in other parts of the body. These can lead to serious health concerns such as:
Set aside a brief part of your daily routine for the proper care of your oral hygiene.
Brushing and flossing are all that’s required to prevent this disease from taking hold or even reversing it in its early stages.
The three steps of gum disease are gingivitis, periodontitis, and advanced periodontitis.
What are the signs and symptoms of this disease that you and your family members should be aware of?
Even though symptoms can vary the signs and/or symptoms for each stage are as follows:
The earliest and least serious stage of gum disease is gingivitis.
Gum inflammation is one of the signs. Gingivitis always precedes periodontitis but doesn’t always lead to either of these.
Gingivitis is usually characterized by the mild inflammation of the gum tissues which surround and support your teeth.
It is a very common condition.
Symptoms are a reddening and mild swelling of the gum tissues.
These can bleed very easily, particularly during brushing and flossing.
It is important to remember that gingivitis can be painless. So a visual check of your gums should be a part of your daily oral hygiene routine.
Healthy gums look pink and don’t feel puffy or tender.
If gingivitis is not reversed or left untreated it can develop into the next stage of gum disease called periodontitis.
The mild inflammation and irritation of your gum lining progress into an infection of the bone tissue which anchors and supports your teeth.
The swelling and reddening of your gum tissues become very pronounced.
Additionally, your gum tissues will recede and pull away. This causes pockets to open around your teeth and a loosening of your teeth can become apparent.
These pockets will fill with food debris and bacteria. This leads to the bone tissue becoming infected.
Persistent bad breath or halitosis and a bad taste in the mouth are typical symptoms of periodontitis.
Essentially this is a simple progression of periodontitis. It is characterized by a worsening of the associated symptoms.
Gum pockets caused by the receding and pulling away of the gum tissue become worse.
This combined with the loss of bone tissue can lead to teeth losing all their support and falling out.
While other factors can be the cause, the primary cause of gum disease is the build-up of plaque in your mouth.
Food particles, saliva, and harmful bacteria combine to form plaque that sticks to your tooth surfaces. Plaque can be easily removed by a combination of brushing and flossing.
If allowed to remain, it will harden over time into tartar. Tartar is very difficult to remove without a professional clean by your dentist.
Plaque and tartar are filled with bacteria that secrete toxins while they break down the food particles left behind after you eat. Your body has an auto-immune response to these bacteria and their toxins.
A combination of these toxins and your body’s auto-immune response causes the gum inflammation symptomatic of gingivitis.
However, the loss of bone and gum tissue in the later stages of gum disease is actually your body turning on itself. This is an attempt to combat the huge increase in bacterial presence.
Factors that can cause one to be more susceptible to gum disease can include the following:
Bad breath or halitosis can be a symptom of gum disease, but gum disease may not be the only cause of bad breath.
Bad breath resulting from gum disease is due to toxins released by the anaerobic bacteria present in plaque and tartar.
Mouthwashes can help mask bad breath.
Anti-bacterial mouthwashes can help reduce the number of bacteria. But a mouthwash can never be a substitute for the daily routine of brushing and flossing.
Bad breath can also be the result of foods with a strong odor, smoking or chewing tobacco.
Bacteria on the gum lining and in the spaces between your teeth can also migrate to your tongue and throat causing bad breath.
Thrush or candidiasis, a yeast infection of the mouth and throat can cause bad breath.
Some illnesses such as pneumonia, bronchitis, diabetes, liver and kidney problems may also lead to bad breath.
Gum disease, whether it be gingivitis or its more serious version, periodontitis, is caused by conditions that allow the “bad” bacteria in your mouth to proliferate.
Typically this is due to poor oral hygiene practices. The bacteria in your mouth will also be present in your saliva.
Currently, the American Dental Association lists both gingivitis and periodontitis as contagious. Only to the extent that mouth bacteria will be transferred between people who share eating utensils, toothbrushes or kissing.
Parents, their children, and romantic partners typically engage in activities that can result in the transfer of mouth bacteria.
However, the transfer of bacteria will not automatically cause infection in the recipient’s mouth.
The conditions for both of these diseases must be present in the recipient’s mouth before they can develop.
In short, if a person with either gingivitis or periodontitis kisses or shares eating utensils with someone else who practices good oral hygiene, it is unlikely that person will develop the disease.
Is it possible to prevent gum disease?
Below are some tips on how to prevent gum disease from starting.
Use good oral hygiene practices:
These will definitely prevent the development of gum disease.
Using a good mouthwash before or after brushing can also help to control the levels of bacteria in your mouth.
Besides good oral hygiene practices you can help prevent gum disease in other ways:
Reducing stress – reducing your levels of stress and adequate sleep will benefit your body’s immune system
Orthodontic therapy or braces – straightening crooked or overlapping teeth will help minimize the spaces between your teeth for bacteria to colonize in
Quit smoking – smoking and chewing tobacco irritate the gums. This compromises the natural defense mechanisms in your mouth. Smokers are much more likely to develop gingivitis and periodontitis.
Diet – minimizing those plaque-causing sugars and carbohydrates in your diet will help control the levels of plaque in your mouth. A well-balanced diet will also benefit your body’s immune system
If the disease is diagnosed and treated in its early stages of gingivitis then gum disease can be reversed.
In its early stages treatment usually consists of a professional teeth clean and more persistent brushing and flossing. Medicated mouthwashes or a course of antibiotics might also be prescribed by your dentist.
Periodontitis is more difficult to treat due to some of the irreversible damage that takes place in the bone supporting your teeth.
Treating periodontitis might require deep cleaning procedures. These include deep scaling and root planing along with flap and pocket-reduction surgeries.
In almost all cases gingivitis can be successfully reversed without the need for medication.
These are generally enough to eliminate the early stages of gum disease.
If daily brushing and flossing are not possible due to age or special needs a dentist might prescribe an anti-bacterial mouthwash designed to specifically target the bad bacteria.
Additionally, a patient might be prescribed a course of antibiotics if deemed necessary.
If gingivitis has been allowed to develop into periodontitis and depending on the level of its severity, some form of oral surgery is usually the only course of action.
Surgical action may be limited to some form of deep cleaning such as deep scaling and root planing. But more drastic remedies such as gum and bone grafts may be needed.
Self-treatment of gum disease can not be recommended. Always consult your dentist before undertaking any form of over-the-counter or home remedies.
The following natural remedies have supporting evidence supporting their effectiveness:
Green tea or green tea extracts can help to reduce inflammation due to its anti-oxidant properties
Bacteria is killed by hydrogen peroxide. This is an ingredient in teeth whitening mouthwashes and gels. However, care must be taken not to swallow it
Puffy and/or tender gum tissue can be soothed with warm salt water rinses
The toxins secreted by bacteria in the mouth can change the pH balance towards acidic. Rinsing your mouth with baking soda diluted in water can help neutralize this acid
There are anti-bacterial properties in certain oils such as sesame or coconut oil. Some people using remedies with either or both of these ingredients have reported positive results
Many brands will advertise that their toothpaste product is the best for preventing or combating gum disease.
However, most dentists will advise patients that the best method is simply to be consistent with a daily routine. Brush with your preferred brand of toothpaste and floss at least once a day.
Regular visits to your dentist will, typically, be recommended as well.
Imparting good oral hygiene practices and the level of consistency that leads to habit is the best action any parent can take to help prevent or treat gum disease in their children.
Starting at the age of 1 year, parents should be brushing their children’s teeth.
Use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste concentrating on all the tooth surfaces and the gum line.
Due to the larger gaps in their teeth during their early years, flossing is not necessary. Flossing should begin as soon as these gaps close. Parental supervision should begin as soon as a child is old enough to begin brushing and flossing on their own.
Hormonal changes can increase the likelihood of gingivitis developing. So those children going through puberty should be checked for their adherence to good oral hygiene practices.
More regular check-ups by a dentist during the adolescent years is beneficial.
As with puberty, the hormonal changes that are a part of pregnancy can contribute to the development of the early stages of gum disease.
In some cases inflamed and bleeding gums can develop in spite of good oral hygiene routines. If gum disease is diagnosed, it is known as pregnancy gingivitis.
Pregnant women should not avoid dental visits.
More frequent professional cleanings by your dentist during pregnancy might be necessary to prevent the development of or treat pregnancy gingivitis.
The bacteria in your mouth responsible for the development of gum disease can migrate to other parts of your body. The toxins secreted by these bacteria can cause inflammation in other areas of your body.
There is evidence that links gum disease, particularly periodontitis, to an increase in the likelihood of:
However, it should be noted that direct responsibility has not been established. It is safe to say that working towards a life free of gum disease can only be to the benefit of your overall health.
Regular visits to your dentist should be a part of your general health routine. Particularly during those times in your life where a change in hormonal activity occurs, such as puberty, pregnancy, and menopause.
During your routine dental visits your dentist may use the following methods to check for or diagnose gum disease:
Usually once a year your dentist may use an instrument to measure the depth of the gum pockets around your teeth. Healthy gums will have pockets between 1-3mm in depth.
X-rays will help your dentist check the status of the underlying bone anchoring and supporting your teeth. If periodontitis has been diagnosed, how much bone has been lost?
Checking Sensitive Teeth
Receding gum lines, one of the signs and symptoms of gum disease, can cause teeth to become sensitive
Checking For Loose Teeth
Bone loss, receding gums and/or the widening of gum pockets, can cause the loosening of teeth
Checking The Gums
Checking for red, swollen and/or bleeding gums will help your dentist determine if gum disease has developed.
Your general dentist will always be the front line specialist when it comes to your oral health and the treatment of any general oral conditions.
Depending on the severity of most oral conditions your dentist will recommend or prescribe a visit to a periodontist.
A periodontist is a dentist who has received additional training after dental school. He handles the diagnosis and treatment of disease afflicting the gum tissue or bone.
Periodontists will be the specialists who undertake the treatment of the more severe cases of gingivitis or periodontitis.
The first stage of gum disease - gingivitis - can generally be eliminated by careful daily brushing and flossing. With advanced gum disease, called periodontitis, the gums and bone that support the teeth get seriously damaged and need professional treatment.
The main cause of gum disease is a lack of oral hygiene and cleaning of the teeth. This allows the bacteria in plaque buildup to thrive which in turn infects the gums.
Initially, you will need to go to a dentist who will professionally clean your teeth to remove the buildup of plaque and debris in your mouth which is the cause of gum disease. Once that is done, you can maintain a regular cleaning routine on your teeth to prevent gum disease occurring again.
By keeping your teeth and mouth clean on a daily basis is the best prevention you can take against gum disease. A daily routine of brushing twice a day, flossing regularly, using a mouthwash and visiting your dentist regularly is the answer.
Regular brushing and flossing, as well as a change of lifestyle of bad habits, will be the best action. Stop smoking and eating fewer sugars and carbohydrates will go a long way towards reducing bad bacteria in your mouth.