Your gums play a fundamental role in helping you maintain excellent oral health. They act as protective seals that inhibit the penetration of bacteria into your body, and they offer support and security, as their purpose is to hold your teeth in place.
Gums, like many other parts of the body, can be prone to disease. Gum disease, also known as periodontitis, begins with bacterial growth in the mouth and can lead to tooth loss if not properly treated. In fact, gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults.
If you want to keep your pearly whites in tact, understanding gum disease and recognising what signs to look out for is extremely important. Read on to learn about signs and symptoms of gum disease, and what you can do to prevent it.
What is gum disease?
Gum disease is caused by plaque – the white sticky film that forms in all our mouths. Plaque is filled with bacteria, and some of this bacteria is good, while some of it is bad. If plaque is left behind after a period of time, it starts to irritate the gums and cause inflammation. Toxins produced by the bacteria in the plaque start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place. As it worsens, the pockets deepen and more gum tissue and bone are destroyed. Teeth are no longer anchored in place and become loose, resulting in tooth loss.
What are the symptoms of unhealthy gums?
Healthy gums will look firm and pink, although they may contain other pigments depending on your ethnic origin. Any change in its natural colour is a sign of poor health.
Sore, tender, bleeding gums are a sign of gum disease. These symptoms generally indicate gingivitis, which is an early stage of gum disease. This stage is reversible, but if proper oral care is not taken, it will advance to severe stages of gum disease known as periodontitis.
What are the warning signs of gum disease?
If you think you might have gum disease, read through these warning signs. If any of these ring true for you, you should consult a dental hygienist immediately.
Bleeding gums when you brush, floss or eat hard food
Gums that recede back from the tooth, making you look long in the tooth
Halitosis (also known as bad breath)
Loose teeth or separating teeth
Puss between your teeth and gums paired with a bad taste in your mouth
How to prevent gum disease
To prevent gum disease, you need to brush your teeth and gums properly. Place the toothbrush bristles against the teeth at a 45-degree angle towards the gum line. Many of us forget to brush our gums when we brush our teeth, but brushing your gums is integral because this is where plaque will sit.
When brushing, hold the handle gently with a light grip and only apply light pressure. Glide the brush across your teeth and gums gently, allowing your brush to do must of the work – do not scrub.
Toothbrushes are not capable of reaching in between the teeth to remove unwanted debris, which is why flossing is crucial. Brushing actually only cleans about 60% of our teeth, but interdental cleaning with floss or brushes helps prevent tooth decay and gum disease, which can occur when food and plaque are left lodged between teeth.
If you have the space between your teeth, then opt for interdental brushes and always use the biggest size possible (you may need more than one brush size). If your teeth are tight together, then dental floss is recommended. Do this once a day, preferably at night and in front of the mirror.
How to floss properly:
Take a piece of floss that runs the same length from your elbow to the tip of your index finger. Wind the floss around your middle fingers leaving an inch or two to work with.
Hold the floss tight between your thumbs and index fingers. Using a gentle sawing action, slide the floss between the teeth.
Go all the way below the gum line and gently curve the floss in a tight ‘C’ shape and rub up and down. Repeat this for the other side of the tooth before coming back up and out to move on to the next space.
Use a clean section of floss as you move between teeth.
If you get the floss in but cannot get it back out – do not panic. Just gently unravel from fingers and pull the floss through.
Do your interdental cleaning before you brush your teeth to remove debris and make this a daily practice.
How to use interdental brushes:
Choose the right size.
Insert between the teeth gently and move the brush back and forth a few times.
Change the size and curve of the brush if needed. I find it easier to keep it straight for the front teeth but angle/bend for the back teeth.
Change the brush when filaments have become worn – usually every 4-7 days.
Impact of gum disease
We know that poor oral hygiene can lead to dental decay and gum disease, but the health consequences can spread further than just the mouth. Gum disease increases the risk of several conditions as the bacteria from your mouth travels through your blood to other parts of your body.
Here are just a few of the health conditions that have been linked to gum disease:
Increased risk of stroke
A recent study looking at the link between stroke and gum disease found that inflammation of the gums can lead to changes in how blood and oxygen flow to the brain and therefore may increase the risk of stroke.
Those with gum disease have a 20% increased risk of developing heart disease.
Plaque bacteria is able to enter the blood stream and travel to the heart while attaching itself to fatty deposits in blood vessels.
A study uncovered a potential link between a bacteria associated with gum disease and Alzheimer’s. Researchers analyzed brain tissue, spinal fluid, and saliva from Alzheimer’s patients—both living and deceased—and found evidence of this bacteria in 96% of the 53 brain tissue samples examined, with higher levels detected in those with the pathology and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Bacteria that cause respiratory diseases like bronchitis and pneumonia may come from the oral cavity, but poor oral hygiene can allow for an increase in bacteria before it spreads past the mouth. Gum disease can worsen the chronic inflammation in lung diseases such as asthma and COPD.
This can have an impact on the part of the jawbone supporting the teeth. Studies show that a loss in this bone is most likely to cause tooth loss or mobility. This can be exacerbated by gum disease as the bacteria damages the gums and bone.
Gum disease affects blood sugar control and increases the chances of suffering from other common long-term complications of diabetes. The inflammation, which occurs in the gums, escapes into the bloodstream and upsets the body’s defence system which in turn affects blood sugar control. In other words, gum disease and diabetes are linked in both directions. Gum disease can cause diabetes and vice versa diabetes can increase your risk of gum disease if you have poor oral hygiene
Brush up to keep it up! A study published in the Journal of Periodontology revealed that men with severe gum disease are more than twice as likely to suffer from impotence compared to those with healthy teeth and gums. The first study of its kind that involved a European population examined more than 150 men, and researchers were able to determine that three in four (74%) with erectile dysfunction also had poor oral health.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy can make your gums more vulnerable to inflammation and bleeding. Studies found that there is a link between gum disease and three possible problems: having a baby with a low weight at birth, giving birth too early in the pregnancy, or having dangerously high blood pressure (pre-eclampsia) during pregnancy.
Researchers examined gum fluid of people with gum disease and found it contained high levels of what are known as citrullinated proteins. These are a type of protein known to trigger an immune response in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Pancreatic and kidney cancer
Researchers found that men with gum disease were 49% more likely to develop kidney cancer, 54% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer, and 30% more likely to develop blood cancers.
How to treat gum disease
If you think you have gum disease, consult a dental hygienist. While a dentist looks after teeth, a dental hygienist offers specialised care for gums, including the management of periodontal disease.
Following a thorough evaluation of your gum health, treatment is carried out with focused cleanings, known as root surface debridement and often referred to as ‘deep cleaning’. This treatment involves cleaning under the gums and the use of specific instruments that remove plaque and deposits away from the teeth and gums.
Routine visits and a tailored oral hygiene routine will keep your gums in good health. Book an appointment with London Hygienist today for peace of mind.