Up to 50% of the population are affected by gum disease. Many of those affected do not even realise they have a problem because their symptoms are few or they think that a small amount of blood present after brushing is insignificant or normal but normal, healthy gums DO NOT bleed. The tragedy of periodontal disease is that despite being easily preventable, so many of us simply ignore the problem altogether and end up losing teeth. We hope that by writing this blog post we can raise awareness about this seemingly small but dangerous ailment.
What is gum disease?
You might have heard of gum disease being referred to as periodontal disease or periodontitis because it affects the periodontium. The periodontium comprises of all the tissues surrounding the tooth, namely: the bone, the cement (covering of the root), the gums and the periodontal fibres (fibres which attach the tooth to the bone in which it sits). What is important to remember is that gum disease is painless, which is why so many of us simply ignore it.
What causes bleeding gums?
The primary cause of gum disease is a bacterial infection resulting from poor oral hygiene. Of course, other underlying conditions such as diabetes and taking certain medications can increase your risk of developing periodontitis, nevertheless the root cause is the presence of bacteria. When we skip brushing our teeth after eating, the remains of food on and between the teeth and beneath the level of the gums, start being colonised by bacteria. Our body reacts by producing antibodies and various substances which infiltrate the periodontium causing it to be inflamed. At this point we call this stage of the disease gingivitis. When gingivitis is left untreated, the fibres attaching gums to teeth start breaking down causing the gums to detach, forming gum pockets. At that point, bacteria can enter these pockets causing inflammation deeper down reaching all the way to the bone. If left to progress, the bone starts to degrade and the less bone there is keeping the teeth in place, the more the teeth start to move. By this point, the disease in the periodontitis stage which will finally end in tooth loss if no treatment is instigated.
How I can prevent bleeding gums and tooth loss?
The most effective way of prevention is maintaining good oral hygiene.
1. Brush your teeth AFTER EVERY MEAL because if you leave bits of food on your teeth, they will be colonised by bacteria and the disease process will begin.
2. Floss at least once a day because brush bristles are often too thick to get in between the teeth to dislodge bits of food.
3. Attend regular dental cleaning appointments to remove tartar which makes brushing and flossing less effective and, with its rough surface, is a perfect breeding spot for bacteria.
4. Avoid snacking between meals.
5. Use Corsodyl (Parodontax) toothpaste which has small abrasive particles which effectively break apart the layer of bacterial plaque.
What can I do to treat gum disease if I already have it?
First and foremost, visit the dentist. If you are at an early stage of the disease, the dentist will give you dietary and hygiene advice and might perform a deep dental clean. If you are already in an advanced stage, you might require antibiotics which the dentist will be able to prescribe. Something which our dentists always recommend our patients to buy is an antibacterial mouthwash containing chlorhexidine which in conjunction with diligent brushing and antibiotics will help stop the progression of the disease.
What can I do if my teeth are already wobbly?
Sadly, a lot of patients with gum disease come to us for the very first time at this very final advanced stage of the disease. By this point, management is very difficult and it is impossible to guarantee that all teeth can be save. Nevertheless, there are things that can be done tone to try and preserve as many teeth as possible. One solution is to place connected crowns on the teeth. Another, more affordable solution, is periodontal splinting with a special splinting strip placed at the back of the teeth. Both of these solutions work by immobilising the wobbly teeth which allows for the bone beneath to regenerate.
To recap, the most important things you should know about gum disease are:
1. Bleeding gums and tooth loss in the course of gum disease are cause by BAD HYGIENE and BACTERIA.
2. Brushing after every meal and flossing once a day is the easiest, cheapest and most effective way of prevention.
3. It is important to attend dental check-ups every 6 months to have an expert examine the health of your gums and alert you if early gum disease is present.
4. Worrying signs to look out for in the early stages are: bleeding after brushing, itchy/swollen/red gums and bad breath.
5. Worrying signs to look out for in the advanced stages are: gums peeling away from teeth, gum recession (lowering of the level of the gums), roots becoming exposed and finally a sensation of teeth being unstable, wobbly or even loose.