Questions about gum disease

Gum disease – known as periodontal disease affects the gums and bone surrounding the teeth; it leads to their destruction and can eventually result in tooth loss.

Periodontal disease is caused by bacteria which are always present in saliva. The bacteria attach to the tooth surface around the gum margin and form dental plaque. This is the sticky white substance which can be scraped away with a fingernail. If the plaque is not removed effectively every twelve hours it can harden into tartar (calculus). The bacteria will cause irritation (inflammation) in the gums.

Tobacco use, diabetes, stress and our genes all increase the chances of developing gum disease and can make it worse.

The early symptoms are bleeding during tooth cleaning or eating, redness and swelling of the gums, and bad breath. If these symptoms are not treated, the disease progresses to involve the deeper tissues and results in bone destruction. Recession of the gums may occur and the teeth appear longer. Also gaps can appear between the teeth and the teeth may start to drift apart and, as the disease progresses, become loose. It is rare that the disease is painful.

It can be successfully treated, especially if caught early. Management includes improving daily plaque removal techniques and by having an intensive course of treatment, in which the teeth are thoroughly cleaned by a dental hygienist. It is important to understand that the treatment of periodontal disease is a partnership between the patient and the clinicians who care for the patient. Achieving and maintaining good plaque removal and attending regular dental appointments are a lifelong commitment.

Treatment also involves stopping smoking and having a healthy lifestyle. People who smoke respond less well to treatment than non-smokers.