Gum Disease: Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment

21.05.2013 Tuesday

Most people who visit their dentist regularly have probably been warned about gum disease. Also known as gingivitis, gum disease is particularly common in adults and has some adverse effects on the teeth and gums over time. So what causes it and how can you prevent it?

Cause and Effect

Plaque contains both ‘good’ bacteria and ‘bad’ bacteria. Most plaque build up is relatively harmless and can be removed by a thorough scale and polish but, if it is allowed to build up excessively, then you may develop gum disease. Neglecting to brush and floss causes the bad bacteria in plaque to build up and irritate the gums. Smokers and those with poor immune systems are more at risk of its development.

The symptoms of gum disease include:

  • Painful or sensitive gums
  • Gums appear to be inflamed, red and swollen
  • Bleeding gums when brushing or flossing
  • Bad breath

Although experiencing these symptoms is common among sufferers, there may be no detectable symptoms therefore regular dental check ups are essential. Avoiding the dentist can also lead to the onset of gum disease as the early signs can be picked up on by a professional. A specialist antiseptic mouthwash (containing chlorhexidine)will usually be prescribed as a preventative measure and the dentist will be able to advise you on how to take better care of your teeth and gums.


There are some complications which may arise if gum disease is ignored or goes undetected.

Periodontitis develops when the tissues which support and hold your teeth in place become affected. Symptoms of this include those of gum disease as well as:

  • A bad taste in your mouth
  • Loose teeth
  • Abscesses under the gums (lumps of pus)

The development of periodontitis means that you will likely loose your teeth if you do not visit the dentist regularly and take good care of your teeth and gums. If it is allowed to develop further, the bones in the jaw may deteriorate causing tooth loss. Other complications include receding gums (causing sensitivity) and damage to the tissue holding the tooth in the socket.

More Severe Forms of Gum Disease

Acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis is an extreme form of gum disease where the bacteria found in plaque reproduces rapidly causing infection. Manifestations of this form of gingivitis include:

  • Large open sores on the gums (ulcers)
  • Holes in the gums
  • Destruction of the gums
  • Bad breath
  • Loose teeth or complete loss of the teeth

Surgery may be required to remove dead tissue surrounding the teeth and pain medication is usually given. If left untreated the tissue may be completely destroyed and further health problems may occur if the bacterium is allowed to spread. Gangrene (tissue necrosis) is relatively rare but it can occur if this condition is not seen to immediately by a dentist. These cases are not as common but it is seen in those with current health problems and weaker immune systems.

Treatment of Gum Disease

Gum disease is much easier to prevent than it is to treat therefore brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and flossing regularly can make all the difference. Use an electric toothbrush to get to those hard to reach spots and visit the dentist for a regular tooth cleaning. There are antiseptic mouthwashes available if you have problems with plaque build up and you may have to consider quitting smoking if you are at high risk of developing gingivitis.

If you already have gum disease, you may need to make more regular dental appointments to ensure that it does not lead to any complications. You may be prescribed antibiotics for periodontitis and you will receive advice on proper oral hygiene.

In some cases periodontal surgery or a deep clean underneath the gums (root planing) may be required but, as long as you make sure you keep taking care of your teeth, then your chances of developing gum disease and its complications will be significantly reduced.

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