Gum disease, or periodontal disease as dentists call it, is caused by plaque – which is the name given to the film of bacteria that develops on teeth. Gum disease involves the inflammation of the gums and then infection. Periodontal disease is usually painless which can make it harder to detect.
In its early stages just the gum is affected, with the gums become inflamed and appearing red and swollen. The gums will bleed easily and the bleeding can often be noticed on brushing. You may notice bad breath. At this stage if you get rid of all the plaque and keep it away, by careful brushing, flossing and perhaps the use of mouthwashes as well, your gums should return to normal.
If the disease is not stopped it continues to spread down beneath the gum, at which point the gums may become more swollen and bleed more often. The plaque may harden to form calculus, sometimes called tartar, around the teeth. The infection spreads into the bone that holds the teeth in place and, in simple terms, starts to dissolve the bone away. Once the bone goes it cannot be naturally replaced.
The effect of losing bone is that the tooth may become gradually loose and eventually, if the disease process is not stopped, then the affected tooth or teeth will fall out. In these later stages you will need the help of a dentist or dental hygienist to carry out cleaning under the gums to clean out the affected areas. If the disease is severe then you may need to see a gum specialist or periodontist for treatment and sometimes gum surgery is required.
Gum disease can usually be prevented by good and careful teeth cleaning, and regular cleanings or scale and polishes with your dentist or hygienist.
Studies have also shown that smoking is a risk factor for gum disease and every effort should be stop smoking as part of treatment for the condition.
Your dentist should assess your gums at every check-up by gently probing round your teeth to check for areas of bleeding or to look for areas where bone may be being lost. Additionally routine x-rays will show the bone levels around your mouth. Your dentist should be keeping a record of the condition of your gums as they are as important as your teeth.
If you go to the dentist regularly and keep your teeth and gums clean there is usually no reason why you should suffer from gum disease.