Q What is gum disease?
A Gum disease describes swelling, soreness or infection of the tissues supporting the teeth. There are two main forms of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontal disease.
Q What is gingivitis?
A Gingivitis means inflammation of the gums. This is when the gums around the teeth become very red and swollen. Often the swollen gums bleed when they are brushed during cleaning.
Q What is periodontal disease?
A Long-standing gingivitis can turn into periodontal disease. There are a number of types of periodontal disease and they all affect the tissues supporting the teeth. As the disease gets worse the bone anchoring the teeth in the jaw is lost, making the teeth loose. If this is not treated, the teeth may eventually fall out.
Q Am I likely to suffer from gum disease?
A Probably. Most people suffer from some form of gum disease, and it is the major cause of tooth loss in adults. However, the disease develops very slowly in most people, and it can be slowed down to a rate that should allow you to keep most of your teeth for life.
Q What is the cause of gum disease?
A All gum disease is caused by plaque. Plaque is a film of bacteria, which forms on the surface of the teeth and gums every day. Many of the bacteria in plaque are completely harmless, but there are some that have been shown to be the main cause of gum disease. To prevent and treat gum disease, you need to make sure you remove all the plaque from your teeth every day. This is done by brushing and flossing.
Q What happens if gum disease is not treated?
A Unfortunately, gum disease progresses painlessly on the whole so that you do notice the damage it is doing. However, the bacteria are sometimes more active and this makes your gums sore. This can lead to gum abscesses, and pus may ooze from around the teeth. Over a number of years, the bone supporting the teeth can be lost. If the disease is left untreated for a long time, treatment can become more difficult.
Q How do I know if I have gum disease?
A The first sign is blood on the toothbrush or in the rinsing water when you clean your teeth. Your gums may also bleed when you are eating, leaving a bad taste in your mouth. Your breath may also become unpleasant.
Q What do I do if I think I have gum disease?
A The first thing to do is visit your dentist for a thorough check-up of your teeth and gums. The dentist can measure the ‘cuff’ of gum around each tooth to see if there is any sign that periodontal disease has started. X-rays may also be needed to see the amount of bone that has been lost. This assessment is very important, so the correct treatment can be prescribed for you.
Q What treatments are needed?
A Your dentist will usually give your teeth a thorough clean. You’ll also be shown how to remove plaque successfully yourself, cleaning all surfaces of your teeth thoroughly and effectively. This may take a number of sessions with the dentist or hygienist.
Q What else may be needed?
A Once your teeth are clean, your dentist may decide to carry out further cleaning of the roots of the teeth, to make sure that the last pockets of bacteria are removed. You’ll probably need the treatment area to be numbed before anything is done. Afterwards, you may feel some discomfort for up to 48 hour.
Q Once I have had periodontal disease, can I get it again?
A Periodontal disease is never cured. But as long as you keep up the home care you have been taught, any further loss of bone will be very slow and it may stop altogether. However, you must make sure you remove plaque every day, and go for regular check ups by the dentist and hygienist.
HEALTHY MOUTH, HEALTHY BODY
Q Could the health of my mouth affect my general health?
A There are new findings which support something that dental professionals have suspected for a long time: infections in the mouth can cause problems elsewhere in the body.
Q What problems could my dental health cause?
A Problems which may be caused or made worse by poor dental health include:
* Heart disease
* Premature and low-birth-weight babies
* Respiratory (lung) disease
Q How can the health of my mouth affect my heart?
A In people who have gum disease, bacteria from the mouth can get into the blood stream. It can then affect the heart by sticking to fatty deposits in the blood vessels of the heart. This can make clots more likely to form. Blood clots can reduce normal blood flow, so that the heart does not get all the oxygen and nutrients it needs. If the blood flow is badly affected this could lead to a heart attack. People with gum disease are almost twice as likely to have coronary artery disease than those without gum disease.
Q What is the link between gum disease and strokes?
A Several studies have looked at the connection between mouth infection and strokes. They have found that people diagnosed with a stroke are more likely to have gum disease than people who have not had one.
Q How could diabetes affect my dental health?
A People with diabetes are more likely to have gum disease than people without it. This is probably because diabetics are more likely to get infections in general. People who do not know they have diabetes, or whose diabetes is not under control, are especially at risk.
If you do have diabetes it is important that any gum disease is diagnosed, because it can increase your blood sugar. This would put you at risk of diabetic complications.
Also, if you are diabetic, you may find that you heal more slowly. If you have a problem with your gums, or have problems after visits to your dentist, discuss this with your dentist before dental treatment.
New research has shown that you are more likely to develop diabetes if you have gum disease.
Q Could gum disease affect my unborn baby?
A Pregnant women who have gum disease may be seven times more likely to have a baby that is premature and with a low birth weight. It seems that gum disease raises the levels of the biological fluids that bring on labour. Research also suggests that women whose gum disease gets worse during pregnancy have an even higher risk of having a premature baby.
Q How could bacteria in my mouth affect my lungs?
A Bacterial chest infections are thought to be caused by breathing in fine droplets from the throat and mouth into the lungs. This can cause infections such as pneumonia, or could worsen an existing condition. People with gum disease have higher levels of bacteria in their mouths and may therefore be more likely to get chest infections.
Q What are the tell-tale signs I should look out for?
A Visit your dentist or hygienist if you have any of the symptoms of gum disease, which can include:
* Inflammation of the gums, causing them to be red, swollen and to bleed easily, especially when brushing.
* An unpleasant taste in your mouth.
* Bad breath
* Loose teeth
* Regular mouth infections
Q Do I need to tell my dentist about any changes to my general health?
A Always tell your dentist about any changes to your general health. It is especially important to tell them if you are pregnant or have heart disease, diabetes, respiratory disease or have ever had a stroke. You also need to tell them about any medicines you are taking as these can affect both your treatment and the health of your mouth.
Q Does gum disease run in families?
A Although there is some evidence that gum disease runs in families, the main cause is the plaque which forms on the surface of your teeth. To prevent gum disease you need to ensure you remove all the plaque from your teeth every day.
Q How can I help to stop my gum disease getting worse?
A If you have gum disease, your dentist or hygienist will usually give your teeth a thorough clean to remove any scale or tartar. This may take a number of sessions with the dentist or hygienist.
They will also show you how to effectively remove the soft plaque yourself, by cleaning all the surfaces of your teeth thoroughly at home. Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria which forms on the teeth and gums every day.
Gum disease is never cured. But as long as you keep up the home care you have been taught you can slow down its progress and even stop it all together. You must make sure you remove plaque every day, and go for regular check-ups with the dentist or hygienist, as often as they recommend.
Q Can exercise help to prevent gum disease?
A A recent study has shown that people who stay fit and healthy are 40% less likely to develop tooth-threatening gum infections, that could lead to gum disease. It was also found that not exercising, not keeping to a normal body weight and unhealthy eating habits made a person much more likely to get advanced gum disease.
If you are serious about your health – and your teeth – you will need to exercise, eat a healthy balanced diet and keep to a normal body weight.
Q Can smoking affect my teeth and gums?
A Smoking can make gum disease much worse. People who smoke are more likely to produce bacterial plaque that leads to gum disease. The gums are affected because smoking means you have less oxygen in your blood stream, so the infected gums do not heal. Smoking can also lead to tooth staining, more teeth lost because of gum disease, bad breath, and in more severe cases mouth cancer.