Gum disease is a serious infection that damages the soft tissue and bone that support your teeth. It can affect one tooth or many, and cause them to loosen or fall out entirely if left unchecked. Gum disease begins when the bacteria in plaque causes the gums to become inflamed and first takes its most common form – gingivitis. This type is distinguished from its more severe counterpart, periodontitis, by the depth of gum pockets and bone loss. While gum disease is common, it is also largely preventable through regular oral hygiene. As long as you're brushing, flossing and visiting the doctor, your chances of developing – and sustaining – gum disease are significantly reduced.
Symptoms of gum disease
Symptoms of gum disease include tender, swollen or puffy gums that are a bright red, dusky red or purplish colour and bleed easily or recede (pull away) from your feeth. New spaces forming between your teeth, pus between teeth and gums, bad breath, loose teeth, painful chewing or a change in the fit of your teeth when you bite can also all be signs of the condition.
Types of periodontitis
This is the most common type of periodontitis. Characterised by the slow deterioration of the gums and bones until either appropriate treatment is undertaken or the teeth fall out, chronic periodontitis mainly affects adults as a result of severe plaque buildup.
This type of periodontitis, which can run in families, begins earlier in life, usually affecting children and young adults. It's relatively rare, but causes rapid bone loss and tooth decay so must be addressed early in its progression.
As the name implies, this type of periodontitis involves necrosis – the death of gum tissue, tooth ligaments and supporting bone due to lack of blood flow. Necrotising periodontitis is an especially severe infection, and tends to affect those with compromised immune systems, such as those suffering from HIV, undergoing aggressive cancer treatment, experiencing malnutrition or dealing with other conditions that weaken the body's immunities.
How gum disease impacts quality of life
A study at the Department of Periodontology at the Centre for Oral Health Sciences in Malm University in Sweden found that people who suffer from periodontal disease experienced a worse quality of life, including limited oral function, psychological discomfort and social disability. Many had difficulty pronouncing words, and experienced a reduced sense of taste and desire to eat food. Affected individuals also reported feeling insecure, tense, embarrassed, and irritated, and found it difficult to relax and conduct their regular daily activities.
Systemic conditions related to gum disease
Periodontitis has been found to be associated with a number of systemic conditions including respiratory disease, chronic kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, obesity and cancer, according to the Malm University study.
Respiratory diseases gum disease has been linked to include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pneumonia. While the direct link between gum disease and COPD has yet to be definitively proven, many pathogenic bacteria connected to pneumonia are found within the oral cavity. It also reports that improved oral hygiene has proved to play a significant role in the prevention of pneumonia in a variety of at risk-populations.
Chronic kidney disease
Periodontitis has been associated with chronic kidney disease in several studies. However, because of the complex pathogenesis of CKD and its close linkage with diabetes, a direct link to periodontitis has not yet been officially established.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that mainly targets the joints but also impacts the skin, eyes, lungs, heart and blood vessels of affected individuals, according to the Mayo Clinic. While there is definitely an association, there is little official evidence that gum disease will further develop existing RA.
A modest association between obesity and periodontitis is supported by multiple studies, according to Malm University. If an individual leads an unhealthy lifestyle in relation to the foods they consume, they may also have a higher risk for gum disease.
The higher incidence of cancer development in those with chronic inflammatory conditions has underpinned research into possible links to periodontitis, says Perio. Confounding effects such as smoking and socioeconomic status may prove difficulties in establishing a solid link, but periodontitis has been identified as a possible risk factor for orodigestive and pancreatic cancer nonetheless.
How to prevent gum disease
According to the Mayo Clinic, the best way to prevent gum disease is to practice good oral hygiene, which means brushing twice daily and flossing at least daily, in addition to using mouthwash. You should also visit the dentist regularly for cleanings and to catch any early developmental indicators.
How to treat gum disease
City Dentists offers services for the treatment of gum disease. Visit the office or call us to schedule a time to talk about options for you.