Gum disease, also called periodontal disease, is an infection of the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth, and a major cause of tooth loss in adults. It most often is caused by bacteria. If left along the gum line, these bacteria can irritate the gums and cause inflammation. The gums begin to bleed and swell, which allow the bacteria even more opportunity to go deeper under the gum line.
In the early stage of gum disease, called gingivitis, the gums can become red, swollen and easily bleed. At this stage, the disease is still reversible and can usually be eliminated by daily brushing and flossing.
Like some diseases, gum disease isn’t painful until it reaches a more critical stage, in which treatment options narrow. If it goes unchecked, inflammation begins to allow surrounding bone to demineralize and dissolve. As the bone dissolves around the teeth in the more advanced stages of gum disease, called periodontitis, the gums and bone that support the teeth can become seriously damaged. The teeth can become loose, fall out, or have to be removed by a dentist.
If you have persistent bleeding gums, seek treatment as soon as you can.
Early symptoms of gum disease:
- Gums that bleed when you brush your teeth
- Red, swollen or tender gums
- Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
- Persistent bad breath
- Pus between your teeth and gums
- Loose teeth
- A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
- A change in the fit of partial dentures
- Bad taste in your mouth
In the early stages of periodontitis, un-removed plaque hardens into tartar. As plaque and tartar continue to build up, the gums begin to recede from the teeth, and pockets form between the tooth structures and gums. In the advanced stages of periodontitis, gums recede even more, destroying more bone. This leads to loose teeth and eventually tooth loss.
Scaling and root planing is a technique performed in a dental office to stop the adverse affect of periodontal disease. The procedure cleans below the gum line and smoothes the roots. When the roots are smoothed, the gums will usually reattach to the root, stopping the bacteria from spreading. In some cases, this procedure may reverse, or at least stop the damage done by periodontal disease.
While bleeding or swollen gums can be an early indicator of gingivitis, they may sometimes occur from vigorous brushing. See your dentist if you are concerned. Regular checkups will be able to catch gingivitis in its early stages, and help you preserve your natural smile for life.
Gingivitis often accompanies pregnancy. Pregnancy may also exaggerate the body’s normal response to dental plaque. This is because four basic hormones vital to the continuation of pregnancy are produced in large quantities during the gestation period. This hormonal increase exaggerates the way the gum tissues react to the bacteria in plaque, resulting in an increased likelihood that a pregnant woman will develop gum disease if her daily plaque control is not adequate.
It is the plaque, not the increased hormone levels, that is the major cause of pregnancy gingivitis. Swelling of the gums is usually first seen in the second month of pregnancy and generally reaches a peak by the middle of the last trimester. It can remain that way for three to six months after delivery.
The seriousness of the gingivitis can range from mild to severe depending on the gum problems existing before pregnancy. Pregnancy generally worsens pre-existing gum problems.
Prevent gum disease by taking good daily care of your teeth and scheduling regular dental checkups before, during, and after pregnancy.