What is gum disease?
Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is a common dental condition that affects the gums and the tissues that support the teeth. It is caused by the build-up of plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that forms on the teeth and gums. If left untreated, gum disease can lead to tooth loss and other serious health problems. In this article, we will discuss the scientific aspects of gum disease, including its causes, symptoms, and treatment.
What causes gum disease?
Gum disease is caused by the build-up of plaque on the teeth and gums. Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on the teeth and gums. If it is not removed by brushing and flossing, it can harden into tartar, which can only be removed by a dentist or dental hygienist.
When tartar builds up on the teeth and gums, it can lead to inflammation, which is the body’s response to infection. Inflammation can cause the gums to become red, swollen, and bleed easily.
Risk factors for gum disease
Several factors can increase the risk of developing gum disease. These include:
- Poor oral hygiene: Not brushing and flossing regularly can lead to the build-up of plaque on the teeth and gums.
- Smoking: Smoking can weaken the immune system and make it harder for the body to fight off infections. Additionally, smoking reduces the diameter of the blood vessels and their elasticity.
- Diabetes: People with diabetes are more likely to develop gum disease because they have a higher risk of infections.
- Genetics: Some people may be more prone to gum disease due to their genetic makeup.
- Age: Older adults are more likely to develop gum disease because their immune systems may not be as strong as younger adults.
Symptoms of gum disease
The early stages of gum disease may not cause any noticeable symptoms. However, as the condition progresses, the following symptoms may occur:
- Red, swollen gums
- Bleeding gums, especially when brushing or flossing
- Receding gums
- Bad breath
- Loose teeth
- Changes in the way the teeth fit together when biting or chewing
Diagnosis of gum disease
A dentist or dental hygienist can diagnose gum disease by examining the teeth and gums and taking X-rays. They may also measure the depth of the pockets between the teeth and gums using a probe. If the pockets are deeper than 3.5 mm, it may indicate gum disease.
Treatment of gum disease
The treatment of gum disease depends on the severity of the condition. In the early stages, the following treatments may be recommended:
- Scaling and root planing: This involves removing the plaque and tartar from the teeth and smoothing the surfaces of the roots to prevent further build-up.
- Antibiotics: Antibiotics may be prescribed to help control the infection.
- Improved oral hygiene: Brushing and flossing regularly can help prevent further build-up of plaque.
- In more severe cases, the following treatments may be necessary:
- Gum surgery: This involves removing the infected gum tissue and recontouring the bone to reduce the pockets between the teeth and gums.
- Bone grafting: This involves adding bone to the jaw to help support reduce the inflammation.
Prevention of gum disease
Prevention is the best way to avoid gum disease. The following tips can help prevent the condition:
- Brush and floss regularly: Brushing and flossing twice a day can help remove plaque and prevent tartar build-up.
- Quit smoking: Smoking can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of gum disease.
- Eat a healthy diet: A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help boost the immune system and reduce the risk of gum disease.
- Visit the dentist regularly: Regular dental check-ups can help detect gum disease in its early stages and prevent further damage.
Statistics about gum disease
- According to a survey conducted by the Oral Health Foundation, almost half (45%) of adults in the UK have some form of gum disease. This equates to approximately 27 million people.
- In a study published in the British Dental Journal, researchers found that 38.5% of adults over the age of 35 in the UK had moderate to severe periodontitis, a form of gum disease that affects the supporting structures of the teeth.
- According to data from the Adult Dental Health Survey, conducted by the NHS, the prevalence of gum disease increases with age. Approximately 12% of adults aged 16-24 have gum disease, compared to 50% of adults aged 65-74.
- In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology, researchers found that smokers were more likely to have periodontitis than non-smokers. The study found that smokers were almost three times more likely to have severe periodontitis than non-smokers.
- According to data from the NHS, the number of hospital admissions for dental problems related to gum disease has increased in recent years. In 2019-2020, there were over 11,000 hospital admissions for dental problems related to gum disease, an increase of 19% from the previous year.
ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
Clinically reviewed by: Prof Dr Christian Mehl
Written by: Dr Raul Costa
About the author:
Dr Raul Costa is a restorative dentist with a unique set of skills for dental aesthetics and a drive for ultra-conservative techniques. He qualified from the Lisbon Dental School in 2005 and has been practicing in London since 2008. He works with world-renowned ceramists in order to deliver natural-looking, life-like, crowns and veneers. He is also particularly talented and experienced with composite bondings and implant-supported restorations.