Gum disease is also known as periodontitis. It is a very common disease that can affect you without clear symptoms or pain. The condition may go undetected for years before a patient becomes aware of it.
How it starts:
We all have some plaque covering our teeth.
If we do not clean our teeth thoroughly, the harmless bacteria population inside the plaque changes into a harmful one that irritates the gum margin around the teeth. The immune system fights the dangerous bacteria and its products, with its own potent defensive products. The constant battle between the body and the bacteria damages the surrounding tissue that supports the tooth. The tooth then slowly loses the attachment between its surface and the surrounding bone. The bone is destroyed and the tooth becomes loose to the point were it no longer can function and has to be taken out.
The initial phase of the disease is called Gingivitis. Gingivitis is a reversible process. This means that if the plaque is removed the gum will go back to the original healthy status with no persistent damage. A big percentage of the population has gingivitis.
If the plaque is not removed, it turns into calculus (tartar). Calculus is a hard layer that is attached to the surface of the tooth and is not easily cleaned with a conventional toothbrush.
If calculus is left long enough, the minor infection or Gingivitis turns into a more severe infection: Periodontitis. Periodontitis is an irreversible process. This means that even when the infection is treated and the bacteria are removed, the damage caused by the disease cannot be fully repaired. The bone level around the affected tooth recedes and a pocket is created between the tooth and the gums.
The longer you leave the disease untreated, the more difficult it is to cure.
Regular visits to the dentist and simple oral hygiene instructions such as brushing and flossing can prevent gingivitis from turning into periodontitis.
The affected gums bleed easily, swell and change colour from light pink into dark red. Gum infection often causes bad breath.
In patients suffering from gum disease, the affected teeth can be tender to the touch.
A big part of gum disease treatment relies on the patient’s cooperation with the dentist. The treatment plan may consist of:
- Oral hygiene instructions in brushing, flossing and using interdental brushes.
- Scaling: removing the plaque and the calculus.
- Root planing: smoothing the surface of the root after scaling.
The above treatments are often carrried out by a hygienist.
- Gum surgery: is used to reach the infected area and change the gum structure to make it easier for the patient to clean between the teeth.
- Using antibacterial mouthwashes and gels.
- Treatment with antibiotics injected directly in the infected pockets.
Why do some people get gum disease more than others?
Some people get gum disease easier than others because of their genetic disposition.
Such people are prone to attracting harmful bacteria and their immune system reacts differently towards the plaque causing more damage to its own gum structure.
Smoking is another contributing factor to gum disease as nicotine impairs the body’s immune system’s ability to fight the gum disease.
Pregnancy: during pregnancy the hormone balance in a woman’s body changes affecting even the gums. The gums become swollen and bleed easily when brushed amd are far more reactive to the effects of plaque. Careful cleaning and flossing is necessary to eliminate the plaque and help the gums during the pregnancy until the hormone balance is restored again when the baby is born and after breast feeding is finished.