Gum Disease Symptoms - And How You Can Prevent Them
If your dental care provider told you that you have periodontal (gum) disease, you’re not alone. Nearly half of all adults in the United States currently have periodontitis. Incidents range in degree from mild to severe. That means almost 65 million adults, age 30 years and older, suffer from some form of gum disease. The rates among adults 65 and older are even higher, increasing to 70 percent.
Even more startling, since the disease affects only parts of the mouth — as opposed to the entire mouth — it’s easy to miss. There may be many unreported cases, and its prevalence among the adult population may be even higher than estimated.
To reduce your risk of developing this common oral health issue, learn about gum disease signs and symptoms and ways you can prevent it.
What Is Gum Disease?
Periodontal disease is a chronic inflammatory disease that attacks your gums and underlying jawbone. Once it reaches advanced stages, it can cause your teeth to fall out. According to the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP), gum disease tops the list as the most common cause of tooth loss.
Gum disease isn’t just a problem for your mouth, either. Heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses may be linked to periodontal disease. Gum disease can be an indication that a more serious health issue is present.
Gum Disease Causes
All mouths produce plaque. In a healthy mouth, teeth are cleaned and kept free of plaque buildup that can cause gum disease. But when neglected, that dental plaque builds up on the teeth and creates tartar.
This buildup can lead to gum disease. Periodontal diseases range from a slight inflammation of the gum — called gingivitis — to the more serious periodontitis.
Gum disease is caused by the bacteria in dental plaque that can build up in the mouth. That bacteria attack the gums, teeth and bones, causing infection. The body reacts to the bacteria, fighting the infection by producing substances. In the more serious cases, these substances can destroy the structures that hold the teeth in the jaw, including ligaments and jawbone.
If left untreated, periodontitis can result in serious damage to the gums and jawbone. In the most severe cases, it causes a loss of teeth. The stages of gum disease require a range of treatments.
What Is Gingivitis?
Gingivitis is the mildest form of gum disease. It frequently causes swollen, red and bleeding gums, but generally very little discomfort. Since the symptoms are minor, you can have gingivitis and not even know it.
Gingivitis starts when plaque and tartar build up on the teeth, causing swelling and inflammation. Left untreated, it can cause damage to the teeth and gums, eventual discomfort and lead to more serious gum disease.
Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease Causes
Poor oral hygiene is a common cause of gingivitis and periodontal disease. Healthy gums fit snugly around the teeth, keeping them securely in place. If plaque — the sticky bacteria that forms on the teeth — is not removed, the gums can separate from the teeth, forming pockets. Bacteria then settles into these pockets, and the result is gingivitis.
There are many other factors that contribute to periodontal disease, including:
- Poor nutrition — Poor nutrition plays a role in periodontal disease, as does obesity and other systemic diseases. A healthy diet provides the nutrients necessary to help fight off infection. Since gum disease is an infection, proper nutrition can build immunities and aid in the fight.
- Clenching and grinding — While clenching and grinding your teeth doesn’t cause periodontal disease, it can stress the gums and increase the progress of any damage caused by the disease.
- Existing health conditions — Diabetes, HIV and other chronic diseases that already put a strain on the body’s immune system can exacerbate gum disease. When you suffer from an ongoing health issue, your body is weaker and can’t properly fight gum disease.
- Smoking — In addition to causing overall health problems, smoking is one of the leading risk factors in the development and advancement of gum disease. It accounts for over half the cases in the population. Additionally, smokers who quit smoking are likelier to retain their teeth longer than those who continue to smoke.
- Age — Your risk for developing gum disease increases as you age. While nearly 50 percent of the adult population has gum disease, that figure rises to over 70 percent for adults ages 65 and over.
- Genetic predisposition — Some people are genetically predisposed to develop gum disease, regardless of careful oral hygiene. You can identify this susceptibility through genetic testing. If you find out you are genetically predisposed to developing gum disease, you can receive early treatment to prevent serious problems.
- Stress — Just as health disease can weaken your immune system, stress can also reduce your body’s ability to fight infection, including gum disease. By eliminating the factors that cause stress and learning stress-management techniques, you can positively impact your overall well-being, including your dental health.
- Drug and alcohol abuse — Substance abuse can weaken your immune system, and it can also cause you to neglect your oral health. In addition, the substances you ingest can hurt your teeth. For example, alcohol has a high sugar content, and methamphetamine can cause your teeth to decay.
- Hormonal changes — Changes in the levels of hormones, including during pregnancy, can promote gum disease.
- Medications — Certain medications can add to the risk of periodontal disease, including oral contraceptives and antibiotics. Make sure you let your dentist know about any medications you are using or have recently been on.
- Faulty orthodontic devices or fillings — Bridges that fit poorly and fillings that are damaged or defective can also add to your risk of developing gum disease. They leave holes where bacteria can fester.
The signs and symptoms of gingivitis are easy to overlook. Since gingivitis rarely causes pain, many people don’t even realize they have it. It isn’t until they visit the dentist for their twice-yearly exam that they find out. Gums should be pale pink and firm when healthy.
You may have gingivitis if your gums are:
- A dusky red color instead of light pink
- Occasionally tender
- Bleeding after brushing or flossing
- Swollen or puffy
Chronic bad breath can also be a sign of gingivitis.
You can repair damage caused by this mild form of gum disease by getting your teeth professionally cleaned on a regular basis and flossing and brushing twice a day. Thankfully, most people suffering from gingivitis can halt the progression of the disease and prevent any lasting damage to gum tissue or jawbone.
Periodontal Disease Symptoms
If left untreated, gingivitis can advance to a more serious form of gum disease, known as periodontitis. In these cases, the gums become inflamed and separate from the teeth, forming pockets that are susceptible to infection.
Plaque invades the teeth below the gum line, and the resulting chronic inflammation can cause severe damage to the jawbone and gums. In severe cases, teeth become loose and must be removed, and the jawbone can decay.
Periodontitis presents in many different forms. The four most common forms are:
- Aggressive periodontitis — This form appears in mainly healthy, young patients. Patients experience rapid bone damage and attachment loss.
- Chronic periodontitis — This form appears mainly in adults and is the most common of the four forms. Patients experience inflammation of the gums, as well as progressive bone loss and attachment loss. This loss is usually slow to develop, but occasionally rapid progression occurs.
- Periodontitis as a manifestation of systemic diseases — This form often manifests at a young age and is linked to systemic conditions such as diabetes, respiratory disease and heart disease.
- Necrotizing periodontal disease — This form is the most severe and often found in patients suffering from systemic conditions such as malnutrition, drug addiction, immunosuppression and HIV. Necrotizing periodontal disease is a bacterial infection that causes necrosis of the gums, jawbone and periodontal ligament.
In addition to the damage listed above that periodontitis causes, serious complications have been linked to gum disease. In the past, researchers believed that the same bacteria that causes gum disease can enter the bloodstream through the gums and cause other complications. We now believe that inflammation is the culprit, and it could be the link to several serious health conditions, including:
- Heart disease
- Asthma and other respiratory problems
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Premature, low-birth-weight babies
By treating the inflammation of gum disease, you may also help any other chronic health issues.
Gum Disease and Women
The fluctuation of hormones experienced by women during menstruation and pregnancy can be associated with periodontal disease. An increase in blood circulation to the gums can increase sensitivity and create a greater possibility of gum irritation.
Additionally, some research has shown that in pregnant women, periodontal disease may impact the health of the baby, but more studies are required to confirm any risk. Menopausal and post-menopausal women also may be at an increased risk for gum disease.
Gum Disease and Men
The incidence of gum disease is significantly lower in women than men. In the past, we thought this was due to poor dental hygiene and resistance among men to visit the dentist regularly. However, today’s science shows hormone levels in men indicate a biological reason for the higher rate of gum disease — and not poor dental habits. This is a significant finding because, as with women, periodontal disease is linked to many health problems among men.
Gum Disease and Children
Children may suffer from several types of periodontal diseases, including chronic gingivitis, aggressive periodontitis and generalized aggressive periodontitis. Children who have parents with gum disease may be at greater risk because:
- Periodontal disease is genetic — Some children may be predisposed to developing oral health issues.
- They lack of good oral hygiene habits — When parents don’t follow healthy oral habits, they are less likely to teach their children to follow them. Without proper oral hygiene, kids are at a higher risk of developing gum disease.
- They eat unhealthy food — Parents who don’t limit junk food or provide a healthy diet may also be contributing to their children’s gum disease.
Chronic gingivitis is preventable and treatable with a regular dental care including daily brushing and flossing and periodic dental checkups. Aggressive periodontitis appears in otherwise healthy young adults with very little sign of plaque. It can seriously impact the incisors and molars. Children with the generalized form of aggressive periodontitis have high levels of plaque and inflamed gums that can lead to tooth loss.
If your child has braces, you should pay extra attention their dental hygiene routine. To brush around the braces, make sure your child has a small toothbrush or one specially designed for use with braces. Fluoride toothpaste and dental floss are equally important. Children with braces should brush five times throughout the day, for five minutes each time, to remove any food and prevent plaque from building up.
Diagnosing Periodontal Disease
Your dental care provider will conduct a visual inspection of your teeth and gums, gather a health history and take x-rays to diagnose periodontal disease. The presence of pockets deeper than 4 mm indicates gum disease. Your dentist will use X-rays to check for bone loss or damage.
Gum Disease Treatment
In the case of advanced progression of the disease, there is periodontitis treatment available. Options include non-surgical and surgical. In either, antibiotics may be required.
Non-surgical options include scaling and root planing to remove the plaque and bacteria. Tray delivery systems deliver necessary medications in a patient’s home.
Surgical procedures include bone and tissue grafting, laser treatments to reduce the size of the pockets, and “flap surgery” to reduce the size of the gum pockets.
In addition to these methods, there are natural treatments for gum disease as well. To reduce inflammation, the antioxidants in green tea and sage have shown effective. To kill bacteria, use hydrogen peroxide as a mouthwash. Adding fruits and vegetables to your diet can also help — the skins clean your teeth, and antioxidants prevent plaque buildup.
Preventing Gum Disease
Controlling plaque will reverse the signs of gum disease. It will also prevent its progression and any additional damage.
Seeing a dentist for professional cleaning twice a year, along with flossing and brushing every day, will eliminate plaque. A toothpaste with plaque control will help, as can an antibacterial mouthwash to eliminate bacteria.
To reduce your risk of developing gum disease, you should:
- Manage your stress levels — When you experience less stress, your body will be able to fight off infection more effectively. Incorporate relaxation techniques into your day to reduce stress.
- Develop good eating habits — Following a healthy diet provides the nutrition your body needs to fight off infection. A diet rich in antioxidants, vitamin E and vitamin C can boost your immune system and help you repair any damage gum disease has already caused.
- Brush your teeth correctly — Brush at least twice a day for two to three minutes at a time. Use toothpaste with fluoride and tartar control. Don’t forget to brush along the gum line and tongue.
- Use the right mouthwash — Rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash.
At Yuma Dental, our goal is to improve your dental health through a wide range of services. Visit us for all of your dental needs, including routine dental care, teeth restoration and dental surgery.
If you have questions about your dental health, our skilled, caring staff is waiting to help you. Contact us today with questions or to schedule an appointment. You can also schedule your appointment online!