You might not realise it but your mouth has a whole lot going on, health-wise. We are not used to thinking of our teeth as living things, but the reality is that they do contain nerves and live tissues and can be troublesome sometimes.Teeth are under a lot of strain every day with biting, chewing, grinding and talking.
However, as useful and important as teeth are, they are not indestructible. In fact, they are susceptible to a number of problems that can potentially result in their loss.
Almost everyone faces a dental problem at some point in their lives. Sometimes dental issues are caused by the care you take of your teeth, or lack of. Mouths are a breeding ground for bacteria, most harmless, but left alone they are capable of causing real problems in your overall health.
Common dental problems include bad breath; tooth decay; gum disease; oral cancer; mouth sores; tooth erosion; teeth sensitivity and toothaches.
The good news is that advances in dental care have made going to the dentist pain free and most of these conditions can be easily prevented and treated.
In this article, we are going to focus on one of the most common oral problems – gum disease.
What is gum disease?
Gum disease is a very common condition where a bacterial infection caused by plaque attacks the gums, bone, and ligaments that keep teeth in place. The gums become swollen, sore and infected.
Most people in the UK have gum disease to some degree or will experience it at least once in their lives.
The first stage of gum disease is called gingivitis, which is the only stage that is reversible. In the early stage of gingivitis, bacteria in plaque build up, and people may notice that their gums are red and swollen, and at times, there may be some bleeding during tooth brushing. Although the gums may be irritated, the teeth are still firmly planted in their sockets. No irreversible bone or other tissue damage has occurred at this stage.
If not treated, gingivitis may lead to a more serious, destructive form of gum disease called periodontitis. This is an advanced stage in which plaque spreads beyond the gum line. When a person has this type of gum disease, bacteria can cause deterioration of the gums and destruction of tooth-supporting bones. In addition, it can lead to tooth loss.
Studies have shown that periodontal disease is linked to heart attacks and strokes. How? The bacteria built up around your teeth can be inhaled or enter your blood through the gums, eventually affecting your heart and lungs.
What are the main symptoms of gum disease?
Usually, gum disease sufferers don’t often show symptoms until their 30’s and 40’s, though teenagers can often have gingivitis.
Warning signs include chronic bad breath, tender or painful swollen gums and minor bleeding after brushing or flossing. It can also include loose or sensitive teeth, receding gums and formation of deep pockets between teeth and gums. The infections can eventually cause the gums to separate from the teeth, creating even greater opportunities for infection and decay.
In many cases, however, gingivitis can go unnoticed. It may progress painlessly, producing few obvious signs, even in the late stages of the disease.
What causes gum disease?
Gum disease is typically caused by three factors: bad oral hygiene, smoking, and genetic susceptibility.
Gum disease caused by bad oral hygiene occurs from the long-term exposure to plaque, the sticky but colourless film on teeth that forms after eating or sleeping. Plaque contains bacteria, some of the bacteria are harmless, but some are harmful for the health of your gums. If you don't remove plaque from your teeth by brushing them, it builds up and irritates your gums. This can lead to redness with bleeding, swelling and soreness.
Although poor oral hygiene is the primary cause of gum disease, other factors can contribute to it. These include illnesses; medications; and hormonal changes. For instance, pregnancy has been known to cause a form of gingivitis. This has been linked to hormonal changes in the woman's body that promote plaque production.
Can you prevent gum disease?
Dental problems are never any fun, but the good news is that most of them can be easily prevented.
Although gum disease is the major cause of tooth loss in adults, in many cases it is avoidable. Prevention is key when it comes to gum disease. Educating yourself about gum disease, the causes and the solutions are critical.
Proper brushing and flossing techniques to remove plaque and bacteria are crucial. Teeth should be brushed after meals, and one should floss between the teeth at least once a day to remove hidden debris and plaque.
Eating properly and regular dental check ups are also essential steps in preventing dental problems such as gum disease. Try to avoid consuming too many sugary snacks, drinks, and breakfast cereals.
How do you treat gum disease?
Treatment methods depend on the type of disease and how far the condition has progressed. Treatment often includes a deep cleaning or scraping tartar from below the gum line, prescription antibiotics, mouthwashes or gels, and surgery. Diligent at-home care is essential thereafter.
Mild cases of gum disease can usually be treated by maintaining a good level of oral hygiene. Gingivitis can be reversed with regular brushing and flossing. Good oral hygiene involves brushing your teeth for about two minutes last thing at night before you go to bed and on one other occasion everyday.
You should also make sure you attend regular dental check-ups so that your hygienist can give your teeth a thorough clean and remove any hardened plaque. Your dentist may also recommend using mouthwash if it helps control the build-up of plaque.
To combat periodontitis, a dentist or periodontist may perform a deep cleaning around the teeth and below the gum lines and prescribe medication to combat the infection. If the disease has progressed to affect your gums and bone, your dentist might suggest surgery, such as a gum graft.
The importance of visiting an experienced dental hygienist
If gingivitis goes untreated, more serious problems such as abscesses, bone loss or periodontitis can occur. It will affect the tissues that support teeth and hold them in place.
If periodontitis isn't treated, the bone in your jaw may be damaged and small spaces can open up between the gum and teeth. Your teeth can become loose and may eventually fall out.
It is also possible to have gum disease without any warning signs.
Even if you don't notice any symptoms, you may still have some degree of gum disease. In some people, gum disease may affect only certain teeth, such as the molars. Only a dentist or a periodontist can recognise and determine the progression of gum disease.
Oral diseases can occur sometimes, even for patients with excellent dental care routines. So, it is important to be able to spot the signs of underlying dental conditions and understand how to solve them.
You should immediately make an appointment to see your dentist if your gums are painful, swollen or if they bleed when you brush your teeth.
Your dentist will carry out a thorough dental examination to check the health of your gums.
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