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Gum Disease Symptoms & Diagnosis

Here we take a look at the what, how, and ew of gum disease.

What is gum disease?

Gum disease, or periodontitis is a serious infection that without prompt attention, can significantly damage the soft tissue around the gums and jaw. If still left untreated it can eventually also destroy the bone and lead to tooth loss and a significant impact on jaw strength.

And the possible issues stop there, untreated periodontitis can significantly impact your larger wellbeing, it can in developed cases even enter the bloodstream and cause significant problems to your overall health, but much of this is preventable, manageable and even reversible.

With our diets and lifestyles as they are these days, the early stages of gum disease are very common in UK adults, the good news is that with correct treatment, care and a diligent oral hygiene routine the early effects can be reversed and the condition itself is fairly easy to manage.

In this article we will discuss the early signs to watch for, and indeed some of the more substantial symptoms, as well as suggestions for good and thorough oral hygiene, and the key steps of prevention and care to get your oral health back in tip top condition and to keep it there.

Symptoms of Gum Disease

Healthy gums are a firm texture to the touch, they are also pale pink and colour and wrap snugly around the teeth. The following list are some early warning signs that you may have gum disease.

  • Gums feel tender

  • They have become swollen

  • They are a red or purple colour

  • They bleed very easily when brushing or flossing

  • It has become painful to chew

  • You have bad breath

  • Any signs of pus

  • Growing spaces between teeth

  • Teeth are loosening

  • Changes to your bite

  • Gums that are pulling back away from teeth ‘receding’

Causes of Gum Disease

The most common cause of gum disease is plaque, we all develop thin layers of plaque bacteria throughout our everyday consumption of food, drink and as a result of our environment.

Daily brushing, flossing and mouth-washing can remove the daily build-up and restart the process each day. This allows a good level of oral hygiene and stops any significant problems from developing.

Gum disease is usually the result of these areas not being attended to in the right way, and can be as simple as not cleaning in a specific area.

So, as a start point, let's look at how gum disease begins and develops.

  1. Plaque begins to form on teeth as a result of sugars and starches mixing with the bacteria we naturally produce.

  2. Uncleaned plaque gets under the gumline and begins to harden into calculus, commonly known as tartar. Tartar is filled with bacteria, and a much tougher substance to remove.

  3. Once the tartar stage is reached it is no longer removable with standard brushing so it is important to book a dental review and cleaning straight away.

  4. The next stage is Gingivitis, which is the beginning stage of gum disease, this will cause irritation to the gum lining and inflammation of gum tissue around the base of the teeth. Gingivitis is the mildest form of gum disease and at this stage it is often reversible with correct care and diligent home hygiene.

  5. If left unattended, the continued inflammation can cause periodontitis, a much more significant condition not only causing tooth loss and weakening, but can also be a gateway to some very serious health implications as well as the initial bone loss and jaw damage. It does this by eating away at the tissue and forming pockets that cannot be reached in the course of normal brushing. These pockets then fill with bacteria and tartar and become deeper and deeper, accelerating as they grow. Tissue is destroyed first and then the underlying bone resulting in tooth loss, weakened bones and causing continued inflammation lessening our bodies natural immune responses and potentially even greater problems.

Aside from early stage gum disease and periodontitis there is another form of bacterial gum disease with a more sudden onset.

Acute Necrotising Ulcerative Gingivitis is characterised by many of the same symptoms as well as over production of saliva and a metallic taste as well as possible fever symptoms and sudden onset ulcers. ANUG is a medical emergency and should you experience any rapid symptom development urgent steps must be taken by either contacting an emergency dentist or going straight to hospital.

Predominant Risk Factors for periodontitis

Some risk factors create more susceptibility to all forms of gum disease, the main ones are listed below but this list is not extensive.

  • Smoking or chewing tobacco

  • Bad oral health maintenance

  • Hormonal changes in the body such as experienced during pregnancy or menopause

  • Gingivitis

  • Obesity

  • The use of recreational drugs

  • Genetic predisposition

  • Medical conditions that lessen the immune response such as Leukaemia, cancer treatment and HIV/AIDS

  • Certain autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis

  • Poor nutrition especially lack of vitamin C

  • Anything that causes an excessively dry mouth or lack of saliva production

Potential effects of periodontitis

As mentioned, untreated gum disease often leads to periodontitis, a serious condition that can result in bacteria entering your bloodstream by way of the affected gum tissue.

Periodontitis has been strongly linked with many serious illnesses including coronary artery disease, rheumatoid arthritis, blood sugar levels (especially in regard to diabetes), and respiratory complications. This list is not exhaustive so please consult your dentist if you have concerns about a specific condition or issue.

How to prevent gum disease and periodontitis

The earlier you start in life with a good oral hygiene routine, the healthier overall your teeth and gums will be. That said, whatever age you are now, practising the right things will safeguard your current oral health level and the body’s natural healing processes can take care of some of the rest.

Brushing your teeth for at least 2 minutes, at least twice a day, and flossing at least once a day either with a high quality dental floss and/or by using interdental brushes is a great way to do everything you need to look after your teeth and gums.

Spacing your tooth brushing at least an hour away from food and drink consumption will also protect the enamel and thus the inner tooth structure which allows your teeth and gums to stay strong and healthy for as long as you need them.

Remember, all parts of your teeth and especially the gum line need to be cleaned, this means the backs, the tops and essentially the gaps in between where so many dental problems begin.

Flossing and interdental brushing should be done before brushing otherwise the flossing action pushes new bacteria back into the mouth where it can reform. Think of it like brushing a room, get into the corners first, bring it all out in the open, then sweep it away with a toothbrush.

Ideally if using Corsodyl or any other reputable mouthwash, this should be done slightly after food consumption and not at the same time as brushing, as one can lessen the effect of the other.

Sometimes, despite our absolute best efforts, gum problems can still occur so it is absolutely essential that you attend all scheduled dentist visits for check-ups and deep cleaning.

These visits are usually spaced at 6 to 12 months but if your dentist recommends more frequent visits, please be aware that there will be health reasons for this and they have your best interest in mind.

It is essential to make these appointments, or if you have to reschedule, please do so as early as possible.

How a dentist diagnoses gum disease

There are several steps we take to look at gum disease and the potential to develop periodontitis.

  • A medical history review looks evaluates risk factors and vulnerabilities

  • A thorough mouth examination

  • Examining the pocket depth between teeth using a dental probe

  • Taking dental X-rays identifies any bone loss where deeper pockets may exist

After these tests your dentist will have an idea as to the correct next steps.

There are many types of treatment to manage and maintain gum disease and its after effects, the correct solution for you will depend on the level of gum disease present.

For further information please see our sister article on Treatment and Preparation for your visit, as well as some ‘at home’ tips to create a healthy and manageable oral hygiene routine.

At Life Dental and Wellbeing we specialise in many forms of dentistry including all stages of gum disease and thorough bespoke aftercare, as well as monthly treatment plans should that option suit your pocket and preference.

Our award winning practice is situated in the heart of Exeter and continues to grow and flourish as a representation of our experience, dedication and commitment to providing the best dental care and advice possible.

For any questions you may have concerning gum disease, how we treat it, or indeed any other dental concerns, please call our team now on 01392 278843 or email and we will do our best to assist.

Rebekah Pearson
Rebekah Pearson
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