The earliest sign of gum disease is redness and swelling of the gums and bleeding on brushing. It can sometimes occur in children but mainly affects adults. In fact adults are more likely to lose their teeth through gum disease than tooth decay.
The early stage (gingivitis) is reversible if oral hygiene (toothbrushing) improves. However if this is allowed to progress into adulthood it will develop into an irreversible condition (chronic periodontitis) leading to bone loss around the teeth. The teeth may then become loose and eventually fall out or have to be removed.
Both gingivitis and periodontal disease are caused by ‘plaque’. A soft, sticky mesh composed mainly of bacteria which forms on teeth, dentures or orthodontic appliances and is present in all mouths.
Although plaque is the main cause of gum disease there are other factors to consider. Underlying medical conditions can also contribute e.g. diabetes, leukaemia and HIV. There is also considerable evidence that smoking accelerates gum disease.
If plaque is not removed by thorough daily toothbrushing it hardens to form tartar (calculus), a solid deposit which can only be removed by a dentist, therapist or hygienist. If this is allowed to remain it will attract further plaque which may move below the gum line and cause destruction of the bone supporting the tooth.
Gum disease is often painless. The classic signs and symptoms are: bleeding gums, redness and swelling, and in extreme cases bad breath and loosening of the teeth.
Toothbrushing, dental floss and interdental cleaning aides can help prevent gum disease. The following are also recommended:
Regular dental check-ups will identify susceptible individuals who will require professional scaling and polishing to remove plaque and tartar/calculus.
The risk of developing gum disease can be greatly reduced by not smoking.
Advice about stopping smoking is widely available through the NHS – ask your dentist for details.