You may have heard the term “gum disease” from your dentist, and are wondering what exactly does it mean and how should you manage it. In essence, gum disease is known as periodontal disease or periodontitis, and the disease doesn’t just involve your gums – it involves your bone around your teeth as well.
How does it develop?
Your teeth are supported by surrounding bone and connective fibres that involve blood vessels and nerves. The small pocket that lies between the bone and your tooth provides the perfect environment for bacteria to grow if it’s not properly cleaned. Without brushing and flossing, the bacteria or plaque can multiply, evolve and harden onto the tooth surface, which is what we call tartar or calculus. Once tartar forms, it’s difficult to remove and can spread underneath the gums, eventually destroying the bone that supports the tooth.
How can it be diagnosed and is it treatable?
Periodontitis is a diagnosis that should be provided to you by a dental health professional after careful examination of the oral tissues. The predecessor to periodontitis, is gingivitis – inflammation of the gums, which is very much so reversible with treatment. Unlike gingivitis, periodontitis is not usually reversible, but it can be stabilised.
What causes it and how do I know if I have it?
The main causes of periodontitis include lack of brushing and flossing, smoking and diabetes. Other causes can also include genetics, hormonal changes, or nutritional deficiencies. The early stages of periodontitis may go unnoticed, though some things you may notice at home include:
- Bleeding of the gums when brushing or flossing
- Blood on your pillow when you wake up in the morning
- Swollen, puffy gums that are bright red
- Gums receding causing sensitive teeth
- A foul taste or odour originating from an area in your mouth
- Bad breath
- Teeth drifting and/or loosening and new gaps developing between teeth
- A change in how your teeth feel when you bite down
- Pain when eating or chewing
How can I manage it?
Start flossing daily
The best type of floss is a manual, waxed floss like Oral B’s Glide. However, any floss is better than no floss! For hard to reach areas, flossettes are a great alternative. Interdental brushes, such as Piksters or TePes can help to clean those larger gaps between teeth that have drifted apart. Just remember to pick the biggest brush size that can fit in between the gaps of two teeth. If you have braces or bridges get your hands on Oral-B’s Superfloss. It has a stiff end that you can use to thread under your braces, retainer wire or bridge.
You may be doing it wrong: Although you may do it every day, many people actually have the technique all wrong. Plaque loves to hide along the surface of the tooth that meets the gums. I recommend brushing for 2 minutes in circular motions with a soft bristled toothbrush (electric or manual) and a fluoridated toothpaste. For sensitive teeth – after brushing, try rubbing some Sensodyne on the sensitive areas and leaving it on like a cream.
Warm salt-water mouth rinses are a perfect way to reduce the bacterial load in the mouth. Doing this twice a day is a simple and cost-effective practice that can go miles for your gum health. A dentist may recommend a short-term use of Savacol Chlorhexidine mouthwash if deemed necessary.
Talking to your dentist or GP about smoking is one of the biggest steps you can make in your journey to health. Smoking actually masks gum disease by reducing the bleeding and inflammation that you may see. But in reality, it does more damage by speeding up the process of destroying bone and reduces healing of your gums. Studies have shown that former smokers respond just as well to dental treatment similar as non-smokers. Your dentist will also be able to educate you more on the implications of smoking on your gum health and oral cancer risk.
Undiagnosed or unmedicated diabetes can worsen the state of your gum-health by giving rise to more oral infections, abscesses and typically leads to a poor response to dental treatment.
Regular dental visits
Your dentist may refer you to a gum specialist or have you attend 6 or 12 monthly for a deep clean, depending on the state of your gum health. Keeping up to date with your dental visits is a key component of managing gum disease, as we can help you get to those hard-to-reach places, remove hardened tartar and keep track of the progression of your gum disease.