What is gum disease?
Do you think your gums might be inflamed? Did you notice some of your teeth may be a bit more loose? Has your dental professional told you that you have problems with your gums or some sort of gum disease? What can you do? You can often identify gum problems yourself, and also do a lot to avoid getting gum problems or disease.
For example, by keeping teeth and the surrounding area clean by brushing twice daily and using interdental brushes. Are you still suffering from gum disease? Please advise your dental professional, the sooner the better: your dental professional can help you! Want more information? Take a look at the FAQ.
How to recognize inflamed gums?
If your gums are inflamed, you will notice that:
- They are (dark) red in color.
- They bleed easily whenever you brush, floss or use toothpicks/interdental brushes. Find out if your gums are inflamed: carry out the gum bleeding test!
Serious Gum Problems
If your gums stay inflamed for a longer period of time, your oral discomfort will only get worse.
- Deep gaps form between your gum and the roots of your teeth. These gaps, called “pockets”, can be more than three millimeters deep, if not in a healthy state.
- Tartar can form on your teeth, not just above the gum line, but also in the pockets underneath the gum.
- The jawbones can start to dissolve.
- Teeth loosen and move apart.
How healthy are your gums?
Healthy gums are easily identified:
- They are a light pink color.
- The teeth are surrounded by solid tissue.
- The spaces between teeth are filled with healthy, firm gum, called papillae. As you get older, your gums will recede slightly, even in a healthy situation. This means space between the teeth may be more visible.
Gum bleeding test
In case of doubt, you might want to test if your gums are inflamed. Follow the next steps:
- Press a triangular wooden toothpick firmly between two teeth (incisors or back teeth). Do not pierce the gum! (Like this)
- Remove the toothpick and wait for a count of 10.
- Check your gums for bleeding.
- Are your gums bleeding? (Like this) In this case it’s inflamed, on the surface or in the pockets. Advice: clean your teeth!
- Your gum is not bleeding, but the toothpick has a distinct odor (bad breath)? Advice: clean your teeth!
- You checked your gums, it’s not bleeding, and the toothpick smells neutral? Your gums are not inflamed, and you are on the right track!
If you check your gums again after one week of proper cleaning using this test, you might want to go to your dental professional. Have your gums stopped bleeding after a week of thorough cleaning? Congratulations! Keep up the good work and make sure you keep your teeth clean and that your gums do not get inflamed again.
Your dental professional most likely uses a different test to check how healthy your gums are. A test most often used by Dutch dental professionals is the Dutch Periodontal Screening Index (DPSI). Pockets, presence of bleeding, presence of plaque, gingival recession and overhanging restorations are all considered when measuring the DPSI. With this information, your gums can get a grade, based on the index shown below: (click to enlarge)
How do you get gum disease?
Gum disease may have different causes:
- When you do not clean your teeth properly, bacteria stay behind in your mouth and a sticky film called plaque forms on your teeth. Substances in dental plaque can penetrate the gum and cause inflammation.
- You can inherit harmful oral bacteria from your parents or your partner can transfer them you.
- You may run an extra risk due to your lifestyle or other medical condition.
Gingivitis and periodontitis
Superficially inflamed gums are considered gingivitis. This commonly occurs because a film of plaque (which exists of bacteria), accumulates on the teeth: the bacteria in dental plaque can cause cavities. Plaque causes the gums to get inflamed and bleeding gums, especially after brushing, could be a result of this.
When gingivitis is left untreated, it can advance to periodontitis. Periodontitis means “inflammation around the tooth” and it can lead to the loss of connective tissue and bone, supporting tissue, and eventually loss of teeth. Please go see your dental professional regularly!
For periodontal disease you should see your dental professional. If gums are badly inflamed, they may refer you to the periodontist, a dental professional who specializes in the treatment of periodontitis.
Peri-mucositis and peri-implantitis
If you happen to have dental implants, it is extra important that you take good care of them by cleaning thoroughly. Risks of getting gum diseases around dental implants are higher, as it is more difficult to clean the area around the implant/screw (especially by hand).
Peri-mucositis is comparable to gingivitis. Soft tissue around the dental implant is affected but there are no signs of bone loss yet. Research shows that treating peri-mucositis can be quite successful if caught early, especially with advice from your dental professional.
Peri-implantitis could be similarly described to periodontitis. It is very important to follow the advice from your dental professional especially if you happen to have peri-implantitis. Negligent care may cause pockets to deepen and may eventually lead to bone deterioration. This may result in losing the dental implant.
Problems caused by gum disease
Gum disease may damage your gums and teeth and may lead to other issues like:
- Bad breath (halitosis). Your breath might not smell fresh.
- Losing one or more teeth. The ones that remain are often crooked.
Impact of gum disease on the body
Gum disease might worsen existing health problems as well, such as:
- Diabetes; gum disease might worsen existing diabetes
- Arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
- Crohn’s disease (inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract)
- Rheumatism (arthritis)
- Pneumonia (lung disease)
Furthermore, gum disease might increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke and research suggests gum disease bacteria can get into the bloodstream and target the fetus, potentially leading to premature labor. Overall healthy gums are essential for a healthy body.
Extra risk due to lifestyle or medical condition
Your lifestyle and/or medical condition can influence your risk of getting gum disease. Some factors that might increase this risk are: smoking, stress, systemic diseases, and genetic factors (if serious gum disease runs in your family).