What is Gum Disease

With more than two-thirds of all adults showing some form of gum inflammation, gum disease is one of the most common infections affecting people today. It commonly refers to a wide spectrum of infections that affect the soft and hard tissue of the mouth. And yet, just with thorough daily brushing and flossing, you can remove these infectious organisms and help prevent gum disease.

Gum disease, or periodontitis, is characterised by a persistent bacterial infection surrounding one tooth or several teeth. In the early stages, gum disease causes little discomfort and produces few obvious symptoms. However, left untreated, periodontal disease will spread and compromise the gums, teeth and bone. It can also lead to heart disease and strokes, as well as complications in diabetes and pregnancy. 

We can generally separate the disease into gingivitis or periodontitis.

Gingivitis is seen as the early stages of gum infection where no long-term damage to the gums or deeper supporting structures has taken place. Gingivitis is usually considered reversible.

If gingivitis is allowed to continue, periodontal disease or periodontitis is likely to develop. In this case, there is the destruction of the supporting tissues, including the gums, bone and periodontal ligaments - the fibres that hold the teeth in the jaw. This can eventually cause the teeth to loosen and even be lost.

Research has associated periodontal infection with several serious medical problems, including heart disease, diabetes and stroke. This underlines the need for a comprehensive approach to the treatment of gum disease, as the impact it has on general health can be significant. As ongoing studies continue to define how periodontal disease is associated with these and other health problems, oral health maintenance is essential.

What can cause infection to advance?

People with periodontal disease have a low resistance to periodontal bacteria. This causes an ongoing gum infection that grows in 'bursts' of activity. Each time it grows, more support for your teeth is lost.

Factors that can cause this to occur include:

  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Dental plaque
  • Genetic factors
  • Stress or tension
  • Diet
  • Age
  • Illness
  • Bad bite
  • Systemic illness
  • Smoking/tobacco
  • Grinding

Symptoms of periodontal infection

Periodontal infection is usually painless until it reaches an advanced stage. However, some symptoms can indicate the presence of periodontal infection.

These include:

  • Red or swollen gums
  • Bleeding when brushing (pink toothbrush), or at other times
  • Aching, itchy, sore or tender gums
  • Receding gums (teeth beginning to look longer)
  • Pus between your teeth and gums when you press down on the gums
  • Bad breath
  • Any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  • Any change in the fit of partial dentures
  • Loose, separating or protruding teeth
  • Spaces between teeth

If you notice any of the above warning signs of periodontal infection, please contact your dentist and ask for a periodontal evaluation.

Important Note: Your gums can look and feel quite normal, and yet deep pockets of periodontal infection can still be present. To be certain about any periodontal disease, ask your dentist or periodontist to examine your gums for signs of infection.