Brushing teeth to prevent gum disease

Gum Disease

Toothbrushes

Summary

  • There are two stages of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis
  • Gingivitis is reversible while periodontitis is not
  • Gum disease may present with no pain
  • If left untreated, gum disease can cause receding gums, loose teeth and tooth loss
  • Good oral hygiene and regular dental visits can help prevent gum disease
  • Gum disease is widespread in Australia – moderate or severe gum disease is present in 22.9% of the population

Gum disease is a serious and mostly preventable disease

Gum disease is a serious and mostly preventable disease, yet in Australia, the condition is on the rise. Moderate or severe gum disease is present in 22.9% of the Australian population, and the statistics get worse with age. Almost 40% of Australians age 55 years older have moderate to severe periodontitis (in 2004 – 2006) compared to 8% of 15 to 34-year-olds.

There are two main stages of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis. Gum disease can be painless, so look carefully for signs of gum disease and ask your dentist to examine your mouth if you have any concerns.

STAGE I: Gingivitis

Gingivitis is the early, mild stage of gum disease, and is reversible. It occurs when dental plaque builds up on the teeth, particularly where the gums join the tooth.

Signs and symptoms of gingivitis

  • Gums become red and swollen
  • Gums may easily bleed when brushing or flossing
  • Bad breath
Sugar causes bad breath and cavities

STAGE 2: Periodontitis

Periodontitis is the second and advanced stage of gum disease that can occur when gingivitis is not treated. Periodontitis is not reversible. The gum margin – the area of gum that seals the tooth – weakens and a space is formed between the tooth and gum. The space is called a periodontal pocket. Bacteria become trapped in these pockets, causing more inflammation (swelling and redness), weakening the area. As the condition advances, the bone and certain structures that hold the teeth in place weaken. Eventually, the tooth may start to loosen and even fall out.

Signs and symptoms of periodontitis

  • Bright red, dusky red or purple gums
  • Swollen, puffy gums
  • Receding gums
  • Pus between teeth and gums
  • Loose teeth or teeth falling out
  • Painful chewing
  • New spaces developing between teeth
  • Bad breath
  • Change in bite (the way teeth come together)

Early prevention is crucial to avoid gum disease. And the good news is it’s not complicated.

How to prevent gum disease

Make sure you do the following to keep your gums free from disease:

  • Gently brush your teeth and gums twice a day with a soft-bristle toothbrush, using fluoride toothpaste. If you experience mild bleeding, don’t be put off; it’s still important to brush
  • Floss your teeth once a day with a good 40 cm of dental floss
  • Visit your dentist regularly for checkups and cleaning
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Minimise your consumption of sugary foods and drinks
  • If you do indulge in the odd sugary food or beverage, rinse your mouth with water afterwards
  • Avoid smoking or chewing tobacco

Risk Factors

Certain risk factors increase your chances of developing periodontitis, including:

  • Hormones
  • Obesity
  • Genetics
  • Poor oral health
  • Smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Certain diseases such as untreated diabetes, Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Certain medications that cause dry mouth or gum changes
  • Recreational drug use such as vaping or smoking marijuana

Gum disease treatment

Your dentist must examine your teeth and gums for signs of gum disease. They may also need to take x-rays. If you contain gum disease early, the condition is easily reversible through professional cleanings and good oral hygiene at home.

If your gum disease has advanced to periodontal disease, the condition cannot be reversed. Instead, you’ll need to control the condition. Your dentist will also help control the disease with professional cleaning treatments. For advanced gum disease, scaling and route planning may be performed to treat the bacteria-filled periodontal pockets. If you have periodontal pockets of more than 5 mm deep (which means you have moderate to severe periodontitis), your dentist may suggest gingival flap surgery performed by a periodontist. This surgery will reduce the periodontal pockets and remove deposits from root surfaces. Additionally, they may provide a bone graft to restore lost bone and prevent your teeth from falling out.

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