Bleeding gums are considered normal by many people, but in fact it’s a sign that the gums are infected with bacteria. If the problem is ignored, the infection can spread, destroying the structures supporting your teeth. Thankfully, prompt treatment is usually effective at reversing the problem and returning your mouth to a healthy state.
What is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal, or gum, disease is an infection of the structures that support the teeth, including the gums, the periodontal ligament, the cementum that covers the root of the tooth, and the alveolar bone. There are three stages of gum disease: gingivitis, periodontitis, and advanced periodontitis. Gingivitis is the earliest stage of the disease and is usually reversible since the infection only impacts the gums at this stage.
Cause of Gum DiseaseWe all have bacteria in our mouths. Together with mucus and other particles, this bacteria constantly forms plaque on the teeth. Plaque is sticky and colorless; if not removed, it hardens into tartar. Brushing and flossing help remove plaque, but only a professional cleaning can deal with tartar. The bacteria in plaque and tartar irritate the gums, causing inflammation. When plaque is allowed to build up, it spreads on the teeth and eventually moves below the gum line. It’s protected there because your toothbrush can’t reach it, so it continues to multiply. As gum inflammation gets worse, the gums swell and detach from the tooth. This creates a space or pocket between the gum and tooth where bacteria can multiply rapidly. This encourages more plaque buildup, resulting in increased inflammation in a continuing downward spiral. Eventually, the structures supporting your teeth may be destroyed, resulting in tooth loss.
Risk FactorsCertain factors may contribute to gum disease, increasing your risk of developing it or making it worse if you get the disease. These factors include the following:
- Genes – Genetics make some people more prone to gum disease, but it certainly doesn’t make it inevitable.
- Smoking and tobacco use – Smoking increases your risk of developing gum disease. It also makes the disease more severe and difficult to treat.
- Crowded or misaligned teeth, bridgework, or braces – These things make brushing and flossing more difficult, putting you at a higher risk for plaque and tartar buildup and gum disease. Your dentist can help you learn to clean your teeth properly, even if they pose challenges.
- Gritting, grinding, or clenching – These won’t cause gum disease, but can make it worse because the excess force speeds up the breakdown of structures around the teeth.
- Stress – Your body’s immune system weakens under stress, making it harder to fight infections like gum disease.
- Fluctuating hormones – Rising and falling hormone levels bring changes in your mouth which can make you more prone to gum disease. Hormone levels tend to fluctuate with puberty, pregnancy, and menopause.
- Medicines – Certain types of medicines dry out your mouth or cause the gums to enlarge, putting you at a higher risk for gum disease.
- Diseases – Certain diseases, including diabetes, HIV infection, and rheumatoid arthritis, increase your risk of developing gum disease.
- Poor nutrition – Proper nutrition is important for a strong immune system and healthy teeth and gums.
Signs of Gum DiseaseIt’s important to get treatment for gum disease as soon as possible, so talk to your dentist if you notice any of the following signs and symptoms:
- Tender, swollen, red, or bleeding gums
- Persistent bad breath
- Pain when chewing
- Loose or sensitive teeth
- Receding gums
- Pus around teeth or gums
Connections with Other Health ProblemsRecent research has linked gum disease with other health problems. There is ongoing research in this area because many questions remain. However, there are possible connections between periodontal disease and:
- Stroke – The risk of a stroke caused by blocked arteries may increase if you have gum disease.
- Atherosclerosis and heart disease – Gum disease may increase your risk of developing clogged arteries and heart disease or make existing heart disease worse.
- Premature birth – Pregnant women who develop gum disease may be at a higher risk for delivering early.
- Respiratory disease – The bacteria associated with gum disease may also cause or worsen lung infections.
- Diabetes – Patients with diabetes who develop gum disease may have a harder time controlling blood sugar levels.
Preventing Gum DiseaseProper oral hygiene is the best defense against gum disease. This includes brushing your teeth at least twice a day, flossing once a day, and visiting your dentist twice a year. Correct brushing and flossing can remove most plaque on a daily basis. Professional cleanings are important to remove plaque buildup in areas where a toothbrush and floss can’t reach.
Treatment OptionsThe most important part of treating gum disease is practicing good oral hygiene. Using natural oral care products with ingredients that help fight gum disease, like Dead Sea salt, coconut oil, and aloe vera, may be helpful. Additional treatments vary depending on the severity of the disease. Always work with your dentist; they can recommend treatment options that are most appropriate for your situation. Some possible treatment options include:
- Salt water rinse – Salt is a natural disinfectant that helps heal the gums. Rinse with a mild salt water solution two to three times per day or brush your teeth with a natural toothpaste containing salt.
- Deep cleaning – The dentist uses scaling and root planing to remove plaque, tartar, and bacteria, and smooth out rough spots on the tooth.
- Surgical treatments – Flap surgery may be necessary to remove tartar in deep pockets. Bone and tissue grafts are used to replace or encourage new growth of lost bone and gum tissue.
Periodontal disease is a serious condition, but with early discovering and proper treatment you can beat the disease and enjoy a healthy mouth.