Gum disease is a highly prevalent, endemic disease in the United States to this day.
According to the CDC, nearly half of all adults aged 30 years and older have some form of gum disease. Gum disease prevalence also increases with age. Over two-thirds of adults, 65 years and older, have gum disease.
While gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, might not grab headlines like COVID-19 or Ebola, it is still an important and pressing public health challenge in the US today.
Of course, gum disease doesn’t just happen out of nowhere. Like many chronic diseases, gum disease is a progressive disease that starts small but can rapidly progress into something highly damaging or even deadly.
Did you know, for example, that periodontal gum disease is actually tied to endocarditis?
A common result of untreated advanced gum disease, or periodontitis, is edentulism or total tooth loss.
Most people won’t want to allow gum disease to progress that far. To catch gum disease early, look for the following signs:
- Swollen, puffy gums
- Red or purple colored gums
- Painful gums (painful chewing)
- Bleeding gums (bleeding while brushing)
- Bad breath
- Loose teeth or loss of teeth
- Receding gums
How To Treat Gum Disease
1. Swollen or puffy gums
Swollen or puffy gums indicate the presence of inflammation.
There can be many causes for gingival inflammation, including unintentional physical trauma.
The most common cause of swollen gums is gingivitis. Gingivitis is merely the early stages of gum disease. While gum disease may not cause permanent damage at this early stage, it is important to treat it before progressing into advanced periodontal disease.
What to do about swollen or puffy gums:
The very first step to treating swollen or puffy gums is to engage in a rigorous oral hygiene routine. This may include brushing thoroughly with a fluoridated toothpaste, flossing, and using mouthwash as a supplementary measure. Typically a rigorous dental hygiene routine will prevent gingivitis from progressing or even reverse it.
It would also be beneficial to visit a periodontist for a professional dental cleaning to eliminate hard-to-tackle plaque and calculus. It is crucial to eliminate plaque and tartar along the gum line as this is where bacteria tend to collect and do the greatest harm to your gums.
2. Red or purplish gums
Like swollen and puffy gums, red or purple discoloration could be an important indicator that gum disease is present.
Typically, healthy gums are a soft pink or coral color. If your gums are red or even tinged with purple tones, chances are they are infected and inflamed. Redness and swelling usually go hand in hand - although this is not always the case.
In general, if your gums are red, swollen, or both, chances are that you have gum disease.
What to do about red or purplish gums:
The key to treating gingival inflammation is to eliminate the source of irritation. This means that the bacteria causing your gums to become inflamed must be completely removed.
The elimination of irritating plaque can be accomplished with a rigorous dental hygiene routine that includes brushing with fluoridated toothpaste twice per day and flossing at least once per day. It will take time to bring the inflammation under control, so be patient and stick to your dental hygiene routine as much as possible.
Should there be no improvement in a week or so, or if symptoms worsen, you should contact your periodontist for an examination.
3. Gum pain
Gum pain, or pain from chewing, can be a sign that you have gum disease. When your gums become inflamed, they can also become very sensitive, resulting in gum pain. This pain may be particularly pronounced when you are chewing or otherwise putting pressure on your gums.
Advanced gum disease cases are characterized by gum recession as damaged gum tissues weaken and then separate from the underlying bone and ligaments in your jaw. Over time, gum recession can expose sensitive dental roots, which many gum disease patients experience through signs of gum soreness or sensitivity.
What to do about gum pain:
Gum pain, particularly chronic gum soreness, is a major sign that it’s time to see a dental professional.
Better yet, if you are experiencing chronic gum pain, you might want to see a gum specialist known as a periodontist. A periodontist can examine your gums and definitively diagnose whether or not you have gum disease or if your oral pain stems from other causes and provide you with a treatment plan. If you are experiencing chronic gum pain, it is important to see a periodontal specialist right away.
4. Beeding gums
Bleeding gums can happen for a variety of reasons, including brushing, flossing, chewing tobacco, or eating abrasive foods such as hard bread or crunchy chips.
Chronically bleeding gums is most often associated with gingivitis. The buildup of plaque along the gum line irritates the gums causing inflammation, swelling and making them prone to bleeding. If you experience bleeding or you spit blood each time you brush or floss, it could be a sign that your gums are weak as a result of chronic inflammation.
What to do about bleeding gums:
The best way to combat bloody gums is to eliminate the plaque and tartar responsible for gingivitis and inflammation. Only by eliminating and preventing the buildup of bacteria through regular brushing and flossing can a person stop their gums from bleeding.
It is also important to note that bleeding can sometimes be triggered by overzealous or overaggressive dental brushing. To brush effectively, apply a pea-sized amount of a fluoridated toothpaste onto an extra soft toothbrush, then gently brush each tooth with a circular motion. Remember, let the brush and the toothpaste do the work. You only need to apply a small amount of pressure to the brush. Be sure to also gently brush along the gum line to scrape off irritating plaque.
5. Bad breath (halitosis)
Your breath is often determined by what you eat. Consuming garlic and onion, for example, might make your friend or coworker hold their nose around you after lunch. However, even after brushing, chronic bad breath can be a sign that something is very wrong.
While there could be a dietary explanation, bad breath, or halitosis, is also a major sign of an oral infection. As bacteria builds up in the mouth, it will attack oral tissues, such as the gums, leading to decay and a foul odor.
Patients with gum disease often exhibit halitosis as decaying organic matter trapped in gum pockets emits a putrid scent.
What to do about bad breath:
There are two ways to deal with bad breath: either attack the symptom or attach the cause.
Flavored mouth rinses, gums, mints, and mouth spays, often only address the symptom and cover up bad breath with other scents and smells.
To truly eliminate halitosis, one must address the underlying cause. If the underlying cause is gum disease, the first step will be to brush and floss regularly.
The next step is to seek the help of a dentist or periodontist who can help you clean out any signs of infection. More importantly, a dental professional can also help you address oral conditions that may encourage gum diseases, such as crooked teeth or gum pockets that trap debris.
6. Pus or effluence
The presence of pus or effluence is an awful sign. Pus only occurs when there is an active infection and active decay. Pus in between your teeth, particularly along the gum line, is a big sign that it’s time to seek help from a dental professional.
Sometimes, patients are made aware of oral effluence by a bad taste in their mouth that won’t go away. If you have a foul taste in your mouth, even after brushing your teeth, it might be a sign that what you are tasting is the pus draining from an active gum infection.
What to do about pus or discharge:
Pus present in the mouth indicates the existence of an active infection that has progressed far beyond simple gingivitis.
Typically, pus is the result of an abscess, which is a pocket of pus caused by an infection. If you think you may have an abscess, you must contact your periodontist immediately to have the infection treated. Deep or abscesses are particularly dangerous as they may also lead to a deadly blood infection or sepsis.
7. Loose or missing teeth
Loose teeth or teeth that are falling out unmistakably indicate that something has gone terribly wrong. While there are many causes for edentulism, or missing teeth, one of the most common reasons for tooth loss is gum disease.
Gum disease attacks the gingival tissues, ligaments, and underlying bone tissues responsible for keeping your teeth in their proper place. Without these structural elements, your teeth have nothing holding them in place and are thus liable to fall out.
What to do about missing teeth:
Loose or missing teeth often indicates the presence of advanced periodontal disease or periodontitis.
Periodontitis can be very difficult to treat and requires extensive professional intervention. If you suspect that your loose or missing teeth result from periodontal gum disease, it is imperative to contact a gum specialist immediately.
A specialist, such as a periodontist, will be able to design and execute a comprehensive treatment regimen to eliminate the underlying infection, repair damage to your teeth, and restore your aesthetic appearances and functionality.
8. Gum recession
When your gums have incurred enough damage, they will slowly detach from the underlying ligaments and bone and begin to shrivel away. If an infection is left untreated, inflamed or, infected gums will begin to recede, exposing the sensitive dental bone underneath. This is where the saying “long in the tooth” comes from, as older individuals in the historical past also experienced gum recession which caused their teeth to look longer by comparison.
Gum recession is a major problem for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, your gums help protect your dental roots and hold your teeth in place. Exposed teeth are liable to become loose and fall out.
What to do about gum recession:
Gum recession can be difficult to reverse. Once your gums recede, they will never grow back. However, surgical procedures, such as a gum graft, can replace missing gum tissues.
To treat gum recession, the first step is always to eliminate the underlying gum infection and inflammation. Only then can a cosmetic, reparative intervention such as gum grafting take place.
If you are considering a gum graft, you will want to consult with a gum specialist such as a periodontist.