The majority of tooth loss in the UK is caused by gum disease rather than tooth decay. One of the first signs that there is something wrong is when we notice blood after brushing our teeth. Sadly, the majority of people then tend to avoid brushing, it is after all a natural instinct when we notice something bleeding to avoid touching it. However, where gum disease is concerned it’s the worst possible. Bleeding is a sign of disease and understanding the causes is the best way to prevent it.
Gum disease may well jeopardise your overall health. There are several studies linking gum disease and particular medical conditions which are considered to be made worse, or at least hastened, by the presence of dental plaque and bacteria. Specifically, Type 1 diabetes, angina, heart attack and other cardiovascular disease, dementia and rheumatoid arthritis. Although scientists are unable to identify a specific cause and effect the research continues and the results make for compelling reading.
Most people suffer from some form of gum disease, and it is the major cause of tooth loss in adults. However, the disease develops very slowly in most people, and it can be slowed down to a rate that should allow you to keep most of your teeth for life. Gum disease is swelling, soreness or infection of the tissues supporting the teeth. There are two main forms of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontal disease.
Gingivitis means inflammation of the gums. This is when the gums around the teeth become very red and swollen. Often the swollen gums bleed when they are brushed during cleaning.
Long-standing gingivitis can turn into periodontal disease. There are a number of types of periodontal disease and they all affect the tissues supporting the teeth. As the disease gets worse the bone anchoring the teeth in the jaw is lost, making the teeth loose. If this is not treated, the teeth may eventually fall out.
All gum disease is caused by plaque. Plaque is a film of bacteria, which forms on the surface of the teeth and gums every day. Many of the bacteria in plaque are completely harmless, but there are some that have been shown to be the main cause of gum disease. To prevent and treat gum disease, you need to make sure you remove all the plaque from your teeth every day. This is done by brushing and flossing.
The first sign is blood on the toothbrush when you clean your teeth. Your gums may also bleed when you are eating, leaving a bad taste in your mouth. Your breath may also become unpleasant.
If you think you have gum disease the first thing to do is visit your dentist for a thorough check-up of your teeth and gums. The dentist can measure the ‘cuff’ of gum around each tooth to see if there is any sign that periodontal disease has started. X-rays may also be needed to see the amount of bone that has been lost. This assessment is very important, so the correct treatment can be prescribed for you.
Unfortunately, gum disease progresses painlessly so that you do notice the damage it is doing. However, the bacteria are sometimes more active and this makes your gums sore. This can lead to gum abscesses, and pus may ooze from around the teeth. Over a number of years, the bone supporting the teeth can be lost. If the disease is left untreated for a long time, treatment can become more difficult.
Your dentist or hygienist will usually give your teeth a thorough clean. You’ll also be shown how to remove plaque successfully yourself, cleaning all surfaces of your teeth thoroughly and effectively. This may take a number of sessions with the dentist/hygienist.
Once your teeth are clean, your dentist/hygienist may decide to carry out further cleaning of the roots of the teeth, to make sure that the last pockets of bacteria are removed. You’ll probably need the treatment area to be numbered before anything is done. Afterwards, you may feel some discomfort for up to 48 hours.
Periodontal disease is never cured. But as long as you keep up the home care you have been taught, any further loss of bone will be very slow and it may stop altogether. However, you must make sure you remove plaque every day, and go for regular check ups by the dentist/hygienist.