Periodontal (Gum) Disease

Periodontal disease affects the gums and bone supporting your teeth. It is caused by sticky plaque and hard deposits of tartar. It occurs when teeth are not kept clean enough. When you get really bad gum disease it is usually hereditary or an effect of malnutrition. This should be immediately investigated.

Thorough brushing can remove sticky plaque. Scaling and polishing can remove hard tartar. Without regular cleaning, the gum will come away from the tooth, making pockets around the teeth where food and plaque can collect. Pockets are more difficult to keep clean so gum disease will usually get worse if nothing is done.

Gum disease has two stages:

  • It starts with inflammation – redness and swelling. Dentists call this gingivitis. It can be cured with good oral hygiene.
  • The next stage is called chronic periodontitis. Some of the bone that supports the teeth are lost and the teeth become loose until they eventually have to be taken out. Periodontitis cannot be reversed once it starts but it doesn't have to get worse if you clean your teeth properly and have regular root planing from your dentist or hygienist.

Who gets gum disease?

Gum disease can start in childhood. Only adults should normally have a problem with chronic periodontitis. You might be worried about bad breath or teeth looking longer due to the gums covering less of them.

Some people are more prone to periodontal disease than others.

  • Crooked teeth are more difficult to keep clean so you might have gum disease in just one part of your mouth.
  • People have different bacteria in their mouths. This can explain why gum disease can get worse very quickly for some people but not for others.
  • Smoking and drinking a lot of alcohol can make gum disease worse. Both are also linked with mouth cancer.
  • Drugs and medicines can affect your gums so your dentist will ask you about your general health.
  • Diabetes and some other diseases can reduce how resistant gums and bones are to damage.
  • Hormonal changes also affect gum health. It could make a difference if you are pregnant or using an oral contraceptive.

Why should I try to avoid periodontal problems?

  • Healthy gums and bone are just as important as just your teeth. Periodontal disease can lead to you losing teeth and all the difficulties that this can cause in eating and speaking.
  • Scientists are now discovering that periodontal disease is linked to coronary heart disease and stroke, especially for people who are already at risk in other ways (through bad diet, smoking, or high blood pressure).