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Maintaining healthy gums and teeth

Although gum disease (also known as periodontal disease) is a common condition, people are often unaware they have it, as they may have few, if any, symptoms.
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Why are regular hygiene visits important?

If left untreated, gum disease can adversely affect gum tissue and the bone that holds teeth in place. If detected during its early stages, gum disease can be reversed but if allowed to progress it can only be managed.

Periodontal disease is the number one cause of tooth loss among adults. This is because a certain number of people (15-20%) have immune systems that overreact to the bad bacteria in their mouths. When this overreaction occurs, the immune system attacks and breaks down the bone and tissue that surround the tooth. This destruction is not predictable and can occur sporadically. None of us knows if we are part of this 15-20% because we can’t usually feel or notice the onset of gum and bone (periodontal) disease. Both adults and children should be routinely checked for gum disease.
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Why does gum disease happen?

Gum disease is caused by the plaque that builds up daily on your teeth. If this sticky substance is not removed, it can turn into hard tartar and start to irritate the gums, leading to redness and soreness. As a reaction to this irritation, the body can start to attack any build-up around the teeth. In some people, their immune system can overreact and start to break down the gum tissue and even the bone that supports the tooth.

Risk factors for gum disease

There are a number of factors that may increase your likelihood of developing severe gum disease, including:

Smoking: Numerous studies have shown that smokers have more gum disease. Smokers have increased levels of tartar in the mouth, and experience more tissue irritation, which makes their gums more susceptible to disease. Smokers have more bone loss and heal less quickly than non-smokers.

Stress: When our immune system is stressed it is difficult to fight off the bacteria that cause gum infections.

Dental neglect: Avoiding the dentist is a lifestyle choice that puts you at risk of contracting diseases of the mouth, teeth and gums.

Floss: Your hygienist or dentist works to prevent infection in your mouth from entering the bloodstream and reaching vital organs.

Heart disease: Gum inflammation products and bacteria in gum disease can cause heart disease, and in some cases, double the risk of a fatal heart attack. In addition, bacteria from your mouth may combine with blood-clotting cells called platelets, forming heart-stopping blood clots.

Stroke: New studies show that 70% of the fatty deposits of stroke sufferers contain bacteria, of which 40% come from the mouth.

Diabetics: This group of people are more likely to have gum disease than most people. Gum disease also makes it more difficult for diabetics to control their blood sugar.

Premature birth: Pregnant women who have periodontal disease may be as much as seven times more likely to have a baby born early. Some research suggests that gum disease may increase the level of hormones that induce labour.

What are the stages of gum disease?

The first stage of gum disease is known as gingivitis and this causes gums to become irritated, swollen and to bleed easily. If left untreated, gingivitis can lead to periodontitis, which can cause gums to separate from the teeth, creating pockets that are susceptible to infection. Over time, these pockets will deepen, the gums will continue to recede, and eventually teeth can become loose and may have to be removed. Despite the destructive nature of this process, there may only be mild symptoms, even at a late stage.

Symptoms of gum disease

  • Inflammation
  • Redness
  • Bleeding after brushing
  • Receding gums
  • Bad breath
  • Bright red or purplish gums
  • Changes in the way your teeth fit together

How to prevent gum disease?

The best way to prevent gum disease is to make sure plaque is removed effectively. This means you need a thorough home care routine with plenty of brushing and flossing, and you should see the hygienist so your teeth can be properly ‘scaled and polished’. You also need to see your dentist regularly so any changes can be detected before they worsen. Other ways you can reduce your risk of developing the disease include giving up smoking, reducing stress and eating a well-balanced diet.

Keep in mind that healthy gums DON’T BLEED. You are the key player on the hygiene team. If you don’t do the essential daily brushing and flossing, the rest of your dental team (the dentist and hygienist) is playing short-handed. And sometimes with everyone fighting the good fight, stubborn plaque and bacteria will require some new maintenance techniques for battling gum infection.

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Frequently asked questions

  • The majority of the population in the UK suffer from some form of gum disease, which is a significant cause of tooth loss. Gingivitis and periodontitis are the two main forms of this disease. You can check for early signs of gum disease when you are brushing your teeth. If there is blood on your toothbrush or in the water when you are rinsing your mouth, this may indicate that you have a gum problem. Also, your gums may bleed when eating and your breath may become unpleasant. You should consult your dentist or hygienist to discuss ways of improving your gum health.

  • Plaque and hard deposits of tartar are the main causes of gum disease. The most common reason for gum disease is that people do not clean their teeth and gums as often or as thoroughly as they should, so it is essential that you maintain a good dental care routine to remove all of the plaque from your teeth. However, there are factors that will mean that some people are more likely to get gum disease, such as:

    • Smoking and drinking excess amounts of alcohol, which are also linked with mouth cancer
    • Drugs, medicine and hormonal changes which can affect your gums
    • Some diseases, such as diabetes, can weaken gums and bones and therefore increase the risk of disease
  • Gingivitis is a term used to describe the inflammation of gums. It is the first stage of gum disease, where the gums become red and swollen and may bleed when brushing your teeth.

  • Periodontitis is a deeper form of gum disease that affects the bone supporting the teeth. Left untreated, periodontitis may eventually result in teeth having to be extracted, as some of the bone is lost and teeth become loose. You can prevent periodontal disease from getting worse by maintaining a good dental care routine and making regular visits to your dentist or hygienist.

  • You should visit your dentist for an examination, so that they can check your teeth and gums and prescribe what treatment is required. Usually the dentist will illustrate how to clean your teeth effectively in order to remove all of the plaque.

  • Dentists also recommend using a small-headed toothbrush with ’rounded’ bristles, so that it doesn’t cause any damage to your gums. Brushing alone will not remove all the plaque from in between your teeth. Using dental floss is extremely useful here. Your dentist or hygienist is best placed to advise you on which cleaning methods are best for you.

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