Also known as periodontal disease, gum disease refers to a bacterial infection affecting the gums and other tissues supporting the teeth. Resulting from plaque and tartar buildup, this condition can lead to a range of symptoms, from loose teeth and decay to inflammation and even heart disease.
While you might be embarrassed about your gum disease, it’s important to realize you aren’t alone. In fact, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research reveals that many adults in the U.S. currently have some form of the disease. Talk to your dentist to learn more about your gum health, as well as the steps you can take to treat gum disease and prevent periodontal disease from occurring.
Gum disease is a potentially serious condition that should be treated early. Here are some of the primary signs and symptoms of gingivitis (the initial stage of gum disease):
- Swollen, red, or tender gums
- Bleeding gums (especially while brushing or flossing)
- Receding gums
- Gum inflammation
- Mouth sores
- Bad breath or unpleasant taste in the mouth
- Teeth that are loose or decaying
- A change in the bite of teeth or fit of dentures
- Pain when eating
- Pain when consuming hot or cold foods/drinks
If you’re experiencing swollen gums or other symptoms consistent with periodontal disease, don’t hesitate to see a dentist to talk about potential causes so you can take steps to improve your oral health.
Causes of Gingivitis
There’s no one cause of gingivitis. However, poor oral hygiene is a major risk factor for the condition. Additionally, the following individuals have a higher chance of developing periodontal disease:
- People who are 65 and older
- People who smoke tobacco
- People with a genetic predisposition for the disease
- Stressed people
- Immunocompromised people
- People with poor nutrition
Patients who have undergone dental restoration may be at a higher risk if teeth fit together poorly or are difficult to clean.
Stages of Gum Disease
Mild forms of gum disease can often be treated simply by taking steps to improve dental health. However, more severe periodontal disease usually requires medical treatment. When you visit a dentist or periodontist for assessment, he or she will take steps to determine the stage of your condition.
The mildest form of periodontal disease, gingivitis may cause little to no pain. A dentist will likely diagnose the condition based on gum redness or swelling. In most cases, mild gingivitis can be reversed by improving your oral healthcare routine.
Left untreated, gingivitis often develops into a more serious problem known as periodontitis. This condition occurs when plaque spreads below the gum line, releasing toxins that inflame the gums. Over time, the tissues and bones that support the teeth become weakened, causing gums to separate from teeth. As pockets around teeth become deeper, more gum tissue and bone are lost. In the long run, people with periodontitis may experience tooth loss, pain, and other side effects.
Doctors have linked gum disease with an array of serious conditions, including cardiovascular disease. According to an article from Harvard Health, periodontal disease patients are twice as likely to suffer a stroke, heart attack, or other cardiovascular event as those with healthy gums. For this reason, diagnosing and treating gum disease early is essential to protecting long-term health.
Ways to Treat Gum Disease
You can take steps to relieve symptoms and reduce the odds of your condition worsening. Here are some of the best gum disease home remedies:
- Brush and floss. Individuals should brush and floss their teeth a minimum of two times per day. Not only does this protect teeth, but it also keeps gums healthy by preventing plaque buildup.
- Rinse with mouthwash. A gingivitis-specific mouthwash can help patients protect their dental health. Ask your dentist about a prescription-strength antimicrobial mouth rinse, such as PerioGard.
- Avoid sugary foods and drinks. These include candy, soda, and ice cream.
- Refrain from smoking.
Some evidence exists to suggest that over-the-counter and natural treatments can help relieve gum disease symptoms. Ask your dentist about drinking antioxidant-rich green tea, which is known to reduce inflammation. Rinsing your mouth with hydrogen peroxide from time to time can help kill harmful bacteria.
In most cases, patients with more severe gum disease will need to seek professional periodontal treatment to achieve relief. Depending on the degree of your gum disease, your periodontist may recommend various treatments to prevent gingivitis from worsening.
A non-surgical treatment option, scaling and root planning involves carefully removing plaque and tartar from the roots of teeth. After removing bacteria and other irritants, your dentist will smooth the tooth root to help the gums and teeth reattach.
If your periodontal disease is more serious or advanced, you might need surgical remedies to remove infections and regenerate lost bone.
An effective treatment for gum disease, pocket reduction involves folding back the gum tissue to uncover hidden areas of bacteria. After removing the harmful bacteria, your dentist will suture the tissue back into place.
Prevent Gingivitis Before It Starts
The best way to prevent gingivitis is to practice good oral health care at home and see a dentist for regular exams. Individuals with early signs of gingivitis or those with a family history of the disease may want to undergo an annual periodontal evaluation. During this assessment, a periodontist will examine your teeth, gums, bite, and bone structure. Early diagnosis is one of the best ways to prevent gum disease from progressing and affecting your quality of life.