Gum disease is an infection of the soft tissue surrounding the teeth caused by bacteria. It is usually the result of poor oral hygiene, smoking, genetics and other underlying conditions such as diabetes. If left untreated, gum disease can lead to receding gums, tooth loss and ultimately, bone loss. The early stages of gum disease are known as gingivitis and can be identified by red, swollen and bleeding gums. Later stages of the infection are known as periodontitis, and can cause the gums to separate from the teeth, forming pockets that can be difficult to clean and can cause even more damage. Treatment of gum disease can include scaling and root planing, a process of removing plaque and tartar from the root surfaces of the teeth, as well as antibiotics to reduce the bacterial infection.
The early stages of gum disease (gingivitis) may cause inflammation, redness, mild bleeding, and bad breath. As the disease progresses to the more advanced stages (periodontal disease), more serious symptoms may include swollen, receding, or tender gums; gum pockets; or a bad taste or odor in the mouth. Other symptoms may include loose teeth or gaps between teeth.
The main known causes of gum disease are poor oral hygiene, smoking, certain genetic factors, hormonal changes, diabetes, medications that reduce the flow of saliva, and certain illnesses such as HIV/AIDS. Poor oral hygiene leads to the buildup of plaque, which increases the risk of gum disease. Additionally, smoking compromises the body’s immune system and ability to fight infection, increasing the risk of gum disease. Genetics can also have an effect if a person has an inherent susceptibility to developing gum disease. Hormonal changes, such as those occurring during pregnancy, can cause gum inflammation. Diabetes can also increase the risk of gum disease since people with diabetes are more likely to be prone to bacterial infections. The use of medications that reduce saliva flow, including those for high blood pressure, depression, and allergies, can increase the risk of gum disease since saliva helps to keep the mouth clean. Lastly, illnesses such as HIV/AIDS can weaken the body’s immune system and make it difficult for the body to fight infection, increasing the risk of gum disease.
The risk factors for gum disease (periodontal disease) include:
- Poor oral hygiene – not brushing twice a day and not flossing daily can increase your risk.
- Tobacco use – smoking or chewing tobacco weakens the gums and causes infection which increases the risk for gum disease.
- Certain medications – some medications can cause increased sensitivity in the gums and can increase the risk of developing gum disease.
- Hormonal changes – pregnancy, puberty, menopause and other hormonal changes can cause an increase in gum inflammation and risk of gum disease.
- Diabetes – diabetic patients have a higher rate of gum disease as a result of poor blood sugar control.
- Age – because of weakened tissue due to age, elderly people can be more prone to gum disease.
- Genetics – some people are born with a higher risk of gum disease.
- Stress – ongoing long-term stress can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of gum disease.
Gum disease is typically diagnosed through a physical examination of the gums and other affected areas of the mouth. A dentist or periodontist will examine the gums for signs of redness, tenderness, and swelling, as well as check for signs of gum recession. They may also perform a pocket probe test, which measures the depth of the pockets between the gums and teeth to determine the severity of the disease. X-rays may also be taken to check for any underlying bone damage and to look for any existing infections.
The two main subtypes of gum disease are gingivitis and periodontitis.
Gingivitis is a milder form of gum disease which is caused by bacteria in the plaque that has built up on the teeth. Symptoms of this subtype include red, swollen and tender gums that may bleed when touched. It is reversible with proper hygiene and treatment.
Periodontitis is a more severe form of gum disease that is caused by a bacterial infection that has spread into the deeper layers of the gum and bone. Symptoms of this subtype include receding gums, pain and sensitivity when eating and drinking, loosened teeth, and deep pocketing between teeth and gums. Treatment involves deep cleaning or surgical procedures.
Treatment for gum disease depends on the severity of the condition. Basic treatments include improving oral hygiene practices and making diet changes. Other treatments may involve professional teeth cleaning to remove plaque and tartar; root planing and scaling to smooth away rough spots on teeth roots; antibiotic treatments to reduce bacteria; and, in some cases, surgery to reduce pockets where bacteria can hide.
To reduce the risk of gum disease, one should practice good oral hygiene, including brushing twice a day with a soft-bristle toothbrush, flossing daily, and using a mouth rinse. It is also important to visit the dentist regularly for professional cleanings and checkups. Additionally, quitting smoking, reducing sugary and acidic foods and drinks, and managing stress are also important steps to protecting gum health.
Yes, there are gender-specific differences in the presentation and management of gum disease. Specifically, women tend to present with more severe gum disease than men, and they are also more likely to develop periodontal diseases such as gingivitis or periodontitis. Additionally, women are more likely to require more aggressive treatment for their gum disease, such as periodontal surgery, than men. Studies have also shown that women are more likely to complete gum disease treatment than men, although this difference is not as pronounced.
Nutrition plays a crucial role in the management of gum disease as it helps to strengthen and maintain healthy gum tissue, which is particularly important in cases of severe gum disease. Eating a healthy diet with plenty of nutrient-dense foods that are high in vitamins and minerals is essential for helping to reduce inflammation and promote optimal healing. Foods that are high in antioxidants, such as berries, beans, and spinach, can help to protect the gums from further damage due to free radicals in the body, while foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines) can help to reduce inflammation and promote healthy tissue growth. Additionally, foods high in calcium and vitamin D, such as dairy products and leafy green vegetables, help to keep the bones and teeth strong and healthy. Finally, limiting intake of sugary, processed, and high-fat foods is important for keeping the gums and teeth healthy and minimizing the risk of further gum disease.
Physical activity is known to have a positive effect on gum health. Regular physical activity can help to improve the flow of blood and oxygen to the gums, which can reduce inflammation and help to prevent gum disease. Additionally, physical activity can reduce stress levels, which can help to improve the immune system and reduce the risk of developing gum disease. Furthermore, physical activity can help to reduce the occurrence of dry mouth, which can help to reduce the amount of bacteria in the mouth that can lead to gum disease.