Gum disease is the general term for several conditions which result in the inflammation and destruction of the gums and, potentially, the bone that supports the teeth. This common condition can affect one or several teeth and is the major cause of tooth loss in patients over the age of 35.
The disease often has few symptoms that the patient can detect until the later stages. More than most conditions, effective treatment involves teamwork - from the dentist, the hygienist and the patient.
What are the causes?
The disease is caused by plaque - a soft, sticky, colourless film of bacteria that is continuously being produced.
Who is affected?
Anyone who allows plaque to build up on their teeth and gums is at risk if developing the condition. Patients who smoke have an increased risk of gum disease, since they are more likely to produce plaque and the lack of oxygen in the blood of smokers means that infected gums may fail to heal. Some drugs, medicines and conditions (such as diabetes) can also affect your gums and reduce your resistance to gum disease. Pregnant women are subject to significant hormonal changes that can affect many tissues in the body including the gums. Your dentist can advise you if you are at particular risk.
Gingivitis is the earliest and mildest form of the disease. Plaque builds where the gum and teeth meet and the bacteria in it can make the gums red and swollen and they may bleed easily. There is usually little or no pain. This early form of the disease is reversible with treatment and good home care.
If plaque is ignored, the gum may become detached from the tooth, forming a “pocket” in which more plaque can gather. This is difficult to clean and the pocket may deepen, filling with plaque and hardening to form tartar - which can only be removed by professional cleaning.
Eventually, the fibres which secure the teeth to the bone, and the bone itself are attacked. This later stage of gum disease, is known as periodontitis. The pocket deepens, the tooth loosens and the gum may shrink back. If left unchecked, gum disease will lead to the loosening and loss of teeth.
A daily oral care routine is important to prevent plaque build up.