Gum disease – also known as periodontal disease or periodontitis – is an inflammatory condition affecting the tissues surrounding the teeth, and is the leading cause of tooth loss. Gum disease is one of the most common dental problems adults face, but it can begin at just about any age. Gum disease often develops slowly and without causing any pain. Sometimes you may not notice any signs until the disease is serious and you are in danger of losing teeth.
The good news is that gum disease can almost always be prevented, if it starts it can be treated and it can even be turned around (or reversed) in its early stages.
Healthy gums and bone hold teeth firmly in place. Gums attach to teeth just below the edge of the gums and gum disease affects the attachment between gums and teeth.
Gum disease begins with dental plaque. Plaque is clear and sticky and contains germs (or bacteria). It forms on your teeth every day. It also forms where your gums and your teeth meet. If plaque is not removed every day by brushing and flossing, it hardens into tartar (also called calculus). Tartar cannot be removed by brushing and flossing and it can lead to an infection at the point where the gums attach to the teeth (called “the point of attachment”). In this early stage gum disease is called gingivitis. Your gums may be a bit red and bleed when you brush but you may not notice anything. As gingivitis gets worse, tiny pockets of infection form at the “point of attachment”. You cannot see them but you may notice puffy gums, traces of blood on your toothbrush or a change in the colour of your gums. Your gums will probably not be sore. Over time the infection breaks down to the gum tissue that attaches the teeth – this is called “attachment loss”. At this point you may notice swelling, bleeding or colour changes in your gums. Along with “attachment loss”, gum disease causes the bone that holds your teeth in place to break down too. If gum disease is not treated, teeth become loose and in danger of falling out.
The best way to deal with gum disease is not to get it in the first place. To protect your oral health, brush your teeth at least twice a day, floss at least once a day and see your dentist regularly for oral examinations.
In its early stages, gum disease is very hard to see. You may not know that you have a problem. But every time you have a dental exam or dental hygiene appointment we look for signs of gum disease. We may use a dental tool called a periodontal probe to measure where your gums attach to your teeth. X-rays show how much bone is around your teeth. If you have gum disease, getting rid of plaque and tartar gives your gums a chance to get better. That’s why in the early stages of gum disease, the best treatment is teeth cleaning by one of our dental hygienists or dentists to remove built-up tartar, brushing twice a day and flossing once a day to remove plaque. When gum disease is more serious, we may refer you to a dental specialist called a periodontist. A periodontist has at least 3 years of extra university training in treating gum disease and in restoring (or regenerating) bone and gum tissue that have been lost because of gum disease. A periodontist also treats serious forms of gum disease that do not get better with normal dental care. When serious gum disease is found, brushing and flossing become even more important.