Top Signs You Have Gum Disease
Many adults in the U.S. have some form of gum disease, a condition that ranges from inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) to the more serious problems of periodontitis and advanced periodontitis.
Gum disease is caused when bacteria that are naturally present in the mouth combine with mucus and particles of food debris to form plaque, a sticky, colorless film that, if not removed, can harden into tartar. Also known as calculus, tartar attacks tooth enamel and tissue below the gum line.
Gingivitis can usually be treated with minimally-invasive options such as a professional dental cleaning and antibiotics.
If gingivitis progresses to periodontitis (Latin for “inflammation around the tooth”), more invasive treatment is likely to be necessary, including scaling and deep cleaning of the surface of tooth roots (root planing), or surgery and possibly bone and tissue grafts.
If not treated, periodontitis can result in significant damage to the bone and soft tissue supporting the teeth. The bacteria can also get into your bloodstream and spread to other parts of the body. People suffering from gum disease can sometimes develop additional health problems through other reasons. For instance, there may be a single underlying cause of both the gum disease and another condition, or it could be coincidental.
Symptoms to Watch Out For
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), gum disease mainly affects people once they reach their 30s or 40s, and men are more likely to fall victim to the condition. Teens rarely develop periodontitis but can still get gingivitis.
Early detection of gum problems is crucial for effective treatment, but you may not realize your gums are infected, mainly because in the initial stages the condition may be painless. Here are some of the top signs you have gum disease:
- Loose teeth. Teeth can become lose when infection takes hold beneath the gums. As the problem intensifies, the gum pockets become deeper. This is because the bacteria from gingivitis and periodontitis are causing the body’s immune system to attack the gum tissue and bone around the teeth.
- Sensitive teeth and discomfort when eating. Tooth sensitivity can be a sign of gum recession resulting from periodontitis. It happens because the underlying surface of the tooth (dentin) loses the protection afforded by the outer surface (enamel).
- Persistent bad breath. Bad breath (halitosis) that won’t go away, or a bad taste in the mouth, may be caused by an accumulation of plaque on the teeth, which forms toxins.
- Red, swollen, tender or bleeding gums. The bacteria that cause gum disease inflammation may make your gums bleed or become red, swollen or tender. For many people with gingivitis, this inflammation is not painful.
- Receding gums. Gum recession may be a symptom of periodontitis, when the tissue that surrounds the teeth erodes or pulls back, exposing more of the tooth or the tooth's root.
Other top signs you have gum disease include the appearance of pus around the teeth and gums, mouth sores, shiny gums, a change in bite function, a change in the fit of partial dentures, and new spaces developing between your teeth.
Are You at Greater Risk of Gum Disease?
Any of the top signs you have gum disease that we’ve listed above may indicate a serious problem that you should get checked out by a dentist as soon as possible. Fifty per cent of adults in the U.S. have gum disease, and certain factors carry a greater risk, so you need to be particularly vigilant if you fall into one of the following categories:
- Certain medications. Many over-the-counter and prescription medications can restrict the flow of saliva, which is essential in flushing away the germs that cause gum disease. Some medicines can also lead to abnormal growth of gum tissue; making it difficult to keep teeth and gums clean.
- Aging. Research has shown that older people have the highest rates of gum disease. Studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that more than 70 per cent of Americans aged 65 and older have periodontitis.
- Poor diet. If your diet lacks sufficient nutrients, your immune system may become compromised, weakening your natural defenses against infections such as gum disease. Obesity may also increase the risk of gum problems.
- Smoking. Smoking greatly increases the likelihood of gum disease. It can also decrease the chances of successful treatment.
- Diabetes. If you have diabetes, you’re at greater risk of succumbing to infections, including gum disease.
- Other medical conditions. Besides diabetes, conditions like cancer and AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) and their treatments can adversely affect the health of gums.
- Genetics. Some people are simply more vulnerable to periodontitis than others. A DNA test will enable early intervention in these cases.
- Teeth grinding. Grinding or clenching your teeth won’t cause gum disease but it can aggravate the condition by putting excessive pressure on the teeth.
- Hormonal changes in women. Pregnancy and menopause can make gums more susceptible to gingivitis.
- Anxiety. Stress can make it more difficult for the body to combat infections like gum disease.
A Common Problem That’s Easy to Overlook
Gum disease is a common oral health issue – people generally focus more on teeth than gums when it comes to brushing and flossing – and the problem can be easy to overlook because it’s typically pain free during the early stages.
Failure to recognize the top signs you have gum disease can result in serious consequences, and it’s one of the chief causes of tooth loss among adults. The American Dental Association (ADA) says gum disease may even show no obvious symptoms, so regular dental check-ups are imperative, both for prevention and early detection, even if you maintain a good routine of oral hygiene at home.
The American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) recommends an annual comprehensive periodontal evaluation (CPE) for all adults. A dentist with a strong emphasis on preventive dentistry will be able to give you further advice on protecting yourself against gum disease.