Lurking Below The Gum Line: What You Need To Know About Gum Disease
By Dr Tonya Kirk
Gum disease is a major cause of tooth loss. With the vast majority of adults suffering from some form of gum disease, it is vital to get diagnosed and treated by a dental professional before the condition worsens.
Gum disease is caused by plaque — a sticky, colourless film of bacteria that sticks to the surfaces of the teeth and other oral tissues. A common place for plaque to form is where the gum meets the tooth. This is called the ‘gingival crevice.’
Because plaque is made up of bacteria, when the immune system senses plaque, it mounts a response to it. This is known as the ‘inflammatory response.’
Inflamed gums are often red and shiny in appearance and bleed more easily than usual. A common sign of early gum disease are gums which bleed during tooth brushing.
Although the inflammation is caused by the presence of plaque, the inflammatory response can vary greatly from person to person and at different times during life. Some people do a meticulous job of cleaning and flossing their teeth, but still get inflammation.
Inflammation can sometimes be hormonally related, such as during pregnancy. Many pregnant women find they have bleeding gums. Very occasionally, bleeding gums can be related to more complex medical problems such as anaemia or leukaemia.
The problem with having inflamed gums is that in some people, the bone around the teeth responds to the inflammation by trying to get away from it. This can cause bone loss which can lead to the tooth developing a severe infection, or even worse, falling out.
The other problem is that this advanced gum disease – known as ‘periodontitis’ – is also being more widely linked to chronic health problems such as heart disease and diabetes.
The thing to remember is that gum diseases affect every individual differently, and can also affect the same individual differently at different times of their lives.
By ensuring you get your teeth and gums checked regularly by a dental professional, means that any problems can be picked up on early. A tailored treatment plan can be established before you have to worry about ‘periodontitis’ and the long term implications it could have on your oral health and overall wellbeing.
Tips To Protect Against Gum Disease
- Brush thoroughly twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
- Floss at least once a day. Make sure the floss cusps the tooth in a ‘C’ shape and goes underneath the gum-line, not just between the teeth. Next time you go to the dentist, check you have the right technique.
- If you struggle with flossing, talk to your dental professional about other options that could be suitable for you. These include interdental brushes or water-flossers.
- Regular dental check-ups every six months will help identify any issues and will allow for early intervention.