What is gum disease?

Gum disease (or periodontal disease) is a bacterial infection that can destroy your gums and the supporting bone that holds the teeth in your mouth. It’s the leading cause of tooth loss among Australian adults.

Recent medical studies have also shown that people with periodontal disease are more likely to have serious health issues such as: coronary heart disease, stroke and stomach ulcers. Women have an increased risk of having pre-term, low birth weight babies.

There is also a strong link between periodontal disease and sleep apnea.

Gum Disease
The difference between a tooth with healthy gums and a tooth with gum disease

What causes gum disease?

Gum disease is caused by plaque, a film of bacteria that forms on our teeth (the same bacteria that causes dental decay). The plaque mixes with sugars and starches in our diet to create acids in our saliva. This irritates and inflames the gums, making them red, tender and swollen. If the plaque isn’t removed daily with brushing and flossing, the plaque hardens to form calculus (tartar) on the teeth.

The two most common types of gum disease are gingivitis and periodontitis:

Gingivitis: Inflammation of the gums is called gingivitis, an early form of gum disease. It’s treatable by your dentist if you catch it in time and keep it under control with daily brushing and flossing and regular hygiene visits.

Periodontitis: If left untreated, gingivitis may progress to periodontitis, a more destructive form of gum disease. If the plaque isn’t removed from the teeth regularly, eventually it destroys the tissue that attaches the gums to the teeth. Then the gums pull away, forming small pockets around the teeth. These pockets fill with more plaque, causing further bacterial infection. Over time, the jawbone supporting the teeth is destroyed.

What are the signs and symptoms of gum disease?

  • Gums that bleed when you brush your teeth
  • Red, swollen or tender gums
  • Gums that have receded or pulled away from your teeth
  • Persistent bad breath or bad taste
  • Pus between your teeth and gums when you press your gums with your finger
  • Teeth that seem loose or change position – often the front teeth “fan” out
  • A change in your bite
  • A change in the way your partial dentures fit

What increases your risk of gum disease?

One or two of these factors can greatly increase your risk of developing gum problems, but with regular dental care, visits to your loving hygienist and staying healthy, you can prevent gum disease.

Poor oral hygiene: The more plaque growth, the higher the risk of gum disease. Your toothbrush and dental floss are the best tools for daily plaque removal. Ask our Adelaide dentists for tips and techniques for taking care of your teeth the right way to avoid decay and gum disease.

Smoking: Smokers have higher levels of calculus (tartar) in the mouth (making their gums more susceptible to disease), more bone loss and heal more slowly than non-smokers.

Illness and stress: Illnesses or diseases like diabetes and heart disease – or when our immune system is stressed – affects our ability to fight off the bacteria that cause gum infections.

Hereditary gum problems: Your genetics and immune response can be linked to gum disease.

Teeth anatomy: Rough dental fillings, crowded teeth, irregular-shaped teeth – anything that makes it difficult to remove plaque thoroughly – contribute to an increased risk of gum disease.

Hormones: Hormonal changes in pregnancy and women taking birth control pills may make them more susceptible to gum infection. Many women have bleeding gums during pregnancy.

Medical: Certain drugs and medical conditions may affect the gums and cause swelling or dry out saliva, which is important in preventing dental disease. Dry mouth also increases plaque build-up.

Clenching or grinding: These habits can put abnormal stress on the teeth and, as a result, bone can be lost, creating a weakening of teeth in the jawbone.

Poor diet Gums, like the rest of our body, need good nutrition to be healthy. Poor diet can make gum tissue vulnerable to infection and resistant to proper healing.

Can you get gum disease from another person?

Research suggests the bacteria that cause gum disease can pass through saliva, so it’s possible you can contract gum disease from someone in your family or another person. That’s why our Adelaide dentists recommend that the entire family be screened for gum disease.

Can gum disease be treated?

Fortunately, periodontal infection can now be detected and treated early. While it isn’t curable, it’s controllable. The most important factor in slowing or stopping the disease’s progression is the control of bacteria, often by the removal of plaque.

Each time you see the hygienist at Island Dental, our Adelaide practice, they’ll do a periodontal evaluation to detect early signs of this infection. We can offer you non-surgical remedies, using the latest instruments and medications to reduce the bacteria levels so your immune system can control the infection. Our hygienists will give you specific instructions for the removal of bacteria at home, as this is critical to control the infection.

Looking for a dentist in Adelaide to help with your gum disease

To book an appointment click here or call our Island Dental team in West Lakes, Adelaide, on (08) 8449 9777.

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