February is National Gum Disease Awareness Month, so we’re taking a moment here to help raise awareness about an important oral health condition.
For such a seemingly small thing, gum disease is a much bigger issue than many of us realize. Nearly 2/3rds of American adults will deal with gum disease at some point in their lives. While most of the time gum disease is fairly benign, if left untreated it can result in permanent damage to the teeth including tooth loss. In addition, gum disease can exacerbate some other health problems, leading to additional complications and negative outcomes.
So how does gum disease develop, and what can we do to prevent gum disease? Let’s learn a bit more about how gum disease works and what you can do about it.
What Is Gum Disease?
Gum disease is an infection of the gum tissue or gingiva, which results from excess bacteria buildup. This generally results due to poor oral hygiene habits and poor diet, although other factors like tobacco and alcohol use can play a role. Generally speaking, the symptoms of gum disease include:
- Swollen or puffy gums, gums that are discolored dark red or purple
- Gums that feel tender when touched
- Gums that bleed easily. This may manifest as a pink-tinged toothbrush or spitting out blood after brushing or flossing.
- Bad breath
- Pus between your teeth and gums
- Loose teeth or even tooth loss
- Pain while chewing or speaking
- New spaces developing between your teeth
- Gums that pull away from your teeth
- A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
If left untreated, gum disease can cause serious problems, including permanent damage to the teeth, gums, and jaw. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it may be time to make an appointment with your dentist to pursue treatment options. They can help you understand what’s happening and suggest the right remedy.
The Development of Gum Disease
So how does gum disease develop? Naturally occurring bacteria in the mouth, if left unchecked by regular cleaning, can build up on the teeth and manifest as a sticky biolayer called plaque. As this plaque layer builds up on the teeth and under the gums, it causes further infection and irritation, which can cause the swelling, bleeding, and tenderness mentioned above. As plaque accumulates, it may become dental tartar, a thick white substance made of bacteria and their waste. This is where the serious problems begin, as gum disease–also known as gingivitis–can develop into the much more serious condition of periodontitis. Periodontitis occurs when pockets form under the gum, which is filled with bacteria, plaque, and tartar. These are potent spots for infection, which can lead to tooth loss, bone loss in the jaw, and gum loss. The damage can be permanent if left unchecked. In addition, the bacteria which cause these infections may spread to the rest of the body, which can complicate conditions such as respiratory ailments, diabetes, and some digestive disorders.
The best way to treat gum disease is prevention. A good brushing and flossing routine combined with a healthy diet is the first step. Regular visits to your dentist for exams and cleaning are another important piece of the puzzle. If you’re due for an appointment or just concerned about your oral health, make an appointment today.