It is estimated that approximately half of all adults in the United Kingdom are currently experiencing gum disease. Of the half who are not actively suffering from gum disease at this moment, the majority will experience symptoms at some time during their adult life.
Despite these shocking figures, many people do not know what gum disease is or what the consequence of it could be.
What is gum disease?
Gum disease (alternatively known as periodontal disease) is the common name given to a set of inflammatory diseases which affect the gums. As the gums work to secure and protect the teeth, any problems with the gums can also affect the teeth. Severe erosion of the gums will lead to tooth loss, because the teeth are no longer held firmly in place.
Gum disease can be localised (affecting 30% of the gums or less) or it can be classified as generalised (affecting more than 30% of the gums).
Signs and Symptoms of Gum Disease
Gum disease actually manifests itself in a variety of different ways, so if you notice anything unusual, you may want to consider whether it could be gum disease. Because it is not always painful, a lot of people tend to ignore the gum disease during its early stages, when they should be taking action instead.
The most common early symptoms are red and swollen gums, or gums that bleed after brushing or flossing. You may notice blood or discolouration in the sink as you spit out your toothpaste, or you may notice a slightly unusual metallic flavour just after you brush. As the disease progresses, the symptoms normally progress as well. You may notice that your breath starts to smell unpleasant. One of the signs that you have bad breath is if you notice people starting to lean away from you as you talk, or people starting to stand further away from you.
Accompanying the bad breath, you may also start to notice an unpleasant taste in your mouth, especially in the morning. If you have localised gum disease, then you may notice that the taste is stronger in the areas which are more badly affected. As the disease progresses further, you may also start to notice that your teeth feel much less secure.
It is likely that you will first start to notice wobbly teeth when you are eating harder or crunching foodstuffs. Many people actually end up changing their diets to accommodate for the fact that their teeth are starting to become wobbly, because they do not want to end up eating a food which could actually cause one of their teeth to fall out. If the gum disease has progressed to this stage then it is likely that you will also start to develop dental abscesses.
A dental abscess is a collection of pus which forms as a result of infection. Abscesses will quickly spread to the surrounding area if they are left untreated. If you have a gum disease related abscess, you will most likely notice a severe, throbbing pain in the area of your gum which is infected. It is likely that this pain will start to get worse over time and you will be unable to treat the pain yourself with over-the-counter painkillers. The pain can spread to your tooth and jaw bone as well.
In the most serious cases of gum diesease it will develop into a rare condition known as acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG). You will have all of the symptoms which are described above, and they will occur in their most extreme forms. It is also likely that your teeth will begin to fall out completely, one-by-one. As your infection progresses, you may begin to find it much harder to eat and talk, because of the pain and the swelling. In some cases, you will also develop a high temperature, which can soon become a fever.
Treatment for gum disease
If you notice any of the early symptoms of gum disease, you should bring it up with your dentist at your regular check-up, although it is likely that they will notice the symptoms themselves if you are still afflicted. If you start to notice any of the symptoms of the disease progressing or any of the symptoms of ANUG, then you should make an appointment as soon as possible to discuss this with your dentist.
In its earliest stages, the best way to treat gum disease is to maintain a very good oral hygiene routine. You should Brush your teeth properly twice per day, for two to three minutes each time. Make sure that you use a toothpaste which contains fluoride, unless you have been specifically advised against this on medical grounds. You are also advised to floss regularly, because flossing helps to clean the areas between your teeth which are impossible to clean properly with a toothbrush.
Mouthwash can help in some cases, although you are advised to speak to your dentist about which type of mouthwash would be best for you in your situation, as some mouthwashes are not recommended for long term use.
Treatments from your dentist
Your dentist may refer you to a hygienist to have your teeth polished and scaled. This is a professional cleaning technique which cleans off the plaque and tartar which has built up on your teeth. In more serious cases, your dentist may suggest root planing, which clears the bacteria off of the roots of your teeth. This procedure requires a local anaesthetic, and you may experience mild pain and discomfort for up to 48 hours after the treatment has been completed.
If your infection has progressed to the ANUG stage, and your abscesses are more widespread, your dentist may prescribe you with antibiotics to treat the infection. Although this can help to clear up localised areas of infection, it will not stop the disease from progressing later on, and it will not treat any of the other symptoms. In addition to antibiotics, your dentist may also be able to prescribe you with stronger painkillers to treat the pain.