Most adults in the UK have gum disease to some degree and most of us will experience it at some point in our lives at least once. It appears to get more common with age, and it’s the leading cause of tooth loss in adults, which is why its treatment and control is the single most important factor in dental care.
Gum disease is the swelling, soreness or infection of the tissues supporting the teeth and there are two main types: gingivitis and periodontal disease. Two symptoms of gingivitis, the early stage of gum disease, are bleeding when brushing and bad breath.
If gingivitis isn’t treated, periodontitis can develop which affects tissues that support the teeth and hold them in place. If this goes untreated the bone in the jaw may be damaged and small spaces can open up between the gum and teeth, allowing teeth to become loose and eventually fall out.
Gum disease usually develops painlessly so it’s easy not to notice the damage it is doing. Bacteria cause infection and inflammation that can eventually make gums sore, leading to abscesses. If the disease is left untreated for a long time treatment can become more difficult.
The culprit is the build up of bacteria in the mouth which together with its by-products is called plaque. If plaque isn’t removed from the teeth it builds up and irritates the gums. This can lead to redness with bleeding, swelling and soreness, and eventually plaque hardens into a substance called calculus or tartar, which can only be removed with professional cleaning.
This process is continuous, which is why a professional clean with a hygienist at least every 6 or 12 months is a really good way to keep gum disease in check, especially as you get older (gum disease is more prevalent in older people).
Mild cases of gum disease can usually be treated by maintaining a good level of oral hygiene, which means brushing at least twice a day and flossing regularly. It’s a good idea to attend regular dental check-ups so any problem areas can be spotted early before there’s an opportunity for permanent damage to occur, and hygiene appointments can be arranged to follow on from these appointments to make life easier.
We will perform a thorough clean and remove any calculus, and we’ll show you how to clean your teeth effectively to help prevent plaque building up in the future. Patients may be advised to visit us more frequently if they’ve had problems with gum disease in the past or if they have an increased risk of developing gum problems, for example, if they smoke or have diabetes, so their teeth and gums can be closely monitored.
If severe gum disease is found then further dental treatment might be needed and, in some cases, surgery might be required by a specialist in gum problems (a periodontist). Our dentists and hygienists work together closely to stop and reverse the effects of gum disease and may sometimes prescribe topical antibiotics.