If you are suffering from gum disease, you are not alone; gum disease affects more than 50% of adults in the UK. Gum disease is caused by microorganisms inside your mouth that attack delicate gum tissue. Affected gums show signs of the disease by becoming red, inflamed and irritated. One of the first signs of gum disease is bleeding gums after brushing or eating foods that scrape the gum tissue, like apples. When left untreated, gum disease can lead to tooth loss or even systemic infections that can damage other parts of your body. There are two types of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis.

What is gum disease?

Gingivitis occurs in the early stages of gum disease and results in the inflammation of the gums (gingivae). The disease most often occurs when plaque deposits on the teeth are not properly removed. The deposits eventually harden and become tartar. The presence of plaque and tartar against or below the gum line causes the gums to become irritated and inflamed.

Gingivitis can also be caused by injury to the gums. Injury may be the result of a traumatic event or just from overzealous brushing and flossing. The damaged gingivae is more susceptible to harmful bacteria that can further breakdown the gum tissue.

Symptoms of gingivitis include: swollen gums and bleeding after gentle brushing.

Periodontitis is a more destructive form of gum disease that occurs when gingivitis is left untreated. With periodontitis the infection spreads from your gums to the underlying bones and ligaments. Weakened bone and ligaments can lead to tooth loss. The accumulation of plaque and tartar below the gum line can even lead to painful and life-threatening oral abscesses.

Symptoms of periodontitis include: bad breath, red or purple gums, shiny gums, bleeding gums, gum tenderness and loose teeth.

How is gum disease treated?

If you have developed gum disease, there are several treatment options available. Your dentist or periodontist can help you determine the best treatment options. The following is a brief overview of the available options.

During any stage of gum disease, antibiotics can be used to treat and reduce gum infections. Because bacteria in the pockets between your gums and your teeth is the leading cause of gum disease, antibiotics may be effective in stopping or slowing the progression of the disease. Often, however, antibiotics alone are not enough.

In the early stages of gum disease, non-surgical treatments may be the best option. The best non-surgical options are scaling and root planing, which involves deep cleaning between the teeth and below the gum line. To reduce pain many dentists use local anesthesia during the process. Clearing away damaging plaque and tartar gives the gums a chance to heal and regenerate.

If non-surgical treatment fails or the gum disease is severe enough, surgical options may be required. Pocket reduction surgery reduces the depth of the pockets between the gums and the teeth, making it more difficult for plaque and tartar to accumulate. Bone and gum grafts replace damaged bone and gum tissue. The bone and gum tissue around your teeth provides necessary support to prevent tooth loss. Replacing the damaged tissue helps you reverse gum disease and keep your teeth.

If you have already lost teeth to gum disease, your dentist may recommend dental implants. Dental implants don't just improve the appearance of your smile, they also prevent further bone loss and help you maintain the teeth you still have. The procedure involves anchoring an artificial tooth to the existing bone structure. Dental implants can be used to replace one or more teeth. Unlike traditional dentures, dental implants looks and feel just like your real teeth.

What should I do if I think I have gum disease?

The earlier you get treatment, the better. If you think you have gum disease, contact a dentist or periodontist near you. He or she can evaluate your oral health and determine what steps you need to take to prevent, stop or reverse gum disease. Losing your teeth doesn't have to be a normal process of aging. By taking action now, you can maintain a beautiful, healthy smile your whole life.

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