Gum disease is the reaction of your gums to a build up of bacteria around your teeth.
Gingivae is the medical word for gums, and “itis” means inflammation. Gingivitis means inflamed gums. The signs of this inflammation are usually redness, swelling, and bleeding.
The inflammation happens as a result of your immune system trying to fight the infection of bacteria building up around your teeth. This bacteria builds up on your teeth everyday: the creamy-yellow soft stuff that we aim to brush away with our toothbrushes is a mix of bacteria, food and toxins produced by bacteria and is called dental plaque.
A good oral hygiene regime will stop daily bacteria build up from staying there long enough to cause a problem.
If you leave bacteria on your teeth for long enough to cause gingivitis, then simply removing the bacteria with careful and thorough brushing and flossing will give your gums chance to heal, and usually they will return completely back to normal.
If you leave any plaque behind for more than a few days, it will start to harden. When solid it is known as calculus (or tartar). Calculus cannot be removed with your toothbrush – only a professional clean by a dentist, dental therapist or hygienist will remove calculus.
(Images taken from Oral B’s “A patient guide to good oral health” leaflet.)
In some people, a build up of plaque and calculus around their teeth and gums (especially under their gums) can cause not only inflammation in their gums, but also inflammation in the attachment of their teeth to the bone as well as the bone support of their teeth. The collective medical term for your gums, the bone support of teeth, and the attachment of your teeth to bone is periodontum, and so inflammation of these tissues is known as periodontitis or periodontal disease.
Periodontitis can cause the bone support of teeth to wear away so that teeth become loose, die, and ultimately fall out. This process often does not cause any pain, but the signs that you might notice include:
- bleeding gums
- swollen gums
- pus coming from your gums
- gum recession
- loose teeth
- gaps between your teeth
- bad breath
Some people are born more susceptible to getting periodontitis because of their genetics, which means this severe form of gum disease often runs in families. While you cannot change your genetic susceptibility to periodontitis, there are a few simple changes that you can make to your lifestyle which will massively reduce the risk of getting periodontitis. If you have periodontitis, the same simple changes to your lifestyle will slow down or even completely stop its progression.
Smoking increases the risk of developing periodontitis by up to 6 times. Quitting smoking will stop your gums from reacting as badly to the bacteria that builds up in your mouth.
Stop the bacteria from building up on your teeth and stop your gums reacting to it.
Your dentist will assess your risk for gum disease as well as the health of your gums and use this form a personalised treatment plan that might simply include preventative advice or possibly active treatment if appropriate.
Make sure you get 5 portions of different fruit and vegetables each day. Fruit and vegetables are the best way to get the vital vitamins and minerals your gums need to heal.