Gum disease is a common condition affecting the tissues around your teeth. It causes swelling, redness of the gums, and sometimes pain, and avoiding treatment can lead to gum recession and even tooth loss.
90% of adults in the UK have some gum disease even if only a small amount. Gum disease, however, can be prevented by maintaining a good oral hygiene routine, including regular brushing, check ups with your dentist, and hygiene appointments
What are the main types of gum disease?
There are three main types of gum disease: gingivitis, periodontitis and acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG). Gingivitis is an inflammation of the tissues that surround your teeth. If gingivitis isn’t treated, it can lead to another type of gum disease called periodontitis, which can affect the bones and ligaments that support your teeth. ANUG is a serious type of gum disease that develops suddenly.
Gum disease isn’t always painful, so you may not realise you have it. That’s why it’s important to visit your dentist for regular check-ups.
What causes gum disease?
Gum disease happens when plaque builds up around teeth that aren’t cleaned properly. You may find it harder to clean your teeth if you wear braces, have implants or wear dentures.
Other things that can make you more likely to get gum disease are smoking, diabetes, pregnancy, taking medication which makes your mouth dry, or eating too many sugary foods. Getting older or having a weak immune system can also make you more susceptible to gum disease.
Gingivitis is caused by a buildup of plaque, a soft, sticky substance caused by bacteria. If you don’t clean the plaque off your teeth by brushing and flossing regularly, it can cause your gums to become inflamed. Your gums may bleed when you brush them but aren’t usually painful.
If you remove the plaque and look after your teeth and gums well, your gingivitis is likely to get better. But if you don’t get the plaque off properly, you may develop a more serious type of gum disease called periodontitis.
The symptoms of gingivitis are:
- Bleeding after cleaning or flossing your teeth, or eating something hard like an apple
- Occasional cases of bad breath (halitosis)
- You might also notice red or swollen gums
If you have symptoms of gingivitis, you may be able to resolve this at home with brushing and flossing techniques. Or you can see a dentist for a professional dental clean. This will involve removing any traces of tartar, plaque, or bacterial products.
If your gingivitis isn’t treated, the inflammation may spread to the ligaments and bones that hold your teeth in place. This is a type of gum disease called periodontitis. Your gums may begin to pull away from your teeth, leaving pockets. These pockets trap plaque that you may not be able to reach with a toothbrush.
Over time, the plaque hardens to become tartar. This may irritate your gums even more by collecting more plaque. The pockets may then get deeper and even more difficult to clean, making the problem worse. Sometimes you may develop an infection in your gums. Pus may collect under your gums, causing an abscess.
Untreated periodontitis can cause your gums to shrink back from your teeth (called recession). This may then expose some of the roots of your teeth, making them sensitive. If you have any bone loss, your teeth may feel loose. If your periodontitis isn’t treated for a number of years, you may even lose some teeth.
If your gingivitis has developed into periodontitis, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Gum recession and sensitive teeth
- A wobbly tooth
- A bad taste in your mouth
- Gum abscesses (pus that collects under your gum
If you have any of these symptoms, we recommend you contact a dentist.
Acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG)
ANUG is a serious type of gum disease that develops suddenly. It is a bacterial infection that causes swelling, ulcers, bad breath (halitosis) and pain. ANUG must be treated by a dentist as soon as possible.
The symptoms of ANUG include
- Very painful ulcers that bleed easily
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- A metallic taste in your mouth
- Difficulty swallowing or talking
- Having a lot of saliva in your mouth
- You may also have a high temperature and feel generally unwell
If you have any of these symptoms, you should see a dentist straight away.
How is gum disease treated?
The type of treatment you will have will depend on how serious your gum disease is. The aim of treatment is to control any existing gum disease and prevent further problems.
- You may be able to treat mild gum disease (gingivitis) with a daily brushing and flossing routine Your dentist will arrange regular check-ups with you to monitor the size of any pockets in your gums, as well as how easily your gums bleed, to make sure these get better over time.
If your dentist thinks you have periodontitis:
- Your clinician will use a periodontal probe to measure the depth of any gaps between your teeth and gums. They may check how easily your gums bleed and how much plaque and tartar you have on your teeth. You may also need X-rays to check the state of your teeth and jaw bone.
- Root-planning may be required to treat periodontitis or acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG). Root planning removes plaque, tartar, and damaged tooth covering. Your dentist or hygienist may use a local anaesthetic to make the root-planning more comfortable. This will completely block the feeling from your gums.
- Treatment with antibiotics may be recommended if you have a very serious infection. Antiseptic mouthwash may be recommended to help discourage the growth of bacteria. However, a mouthwash can’t remove plaque already built up on your teeth – this must be brushed off or removed by a dentist.
- If you have more serious periodontitis, and other treatments haven’t worked, your dentist may refer you to a periodontist for gum surgery. This is a healthcare professional who specialises in treating periodontal diseases. Gum surgery may help to remove bacteria and repair your gums and bone. It may also improve how your teeth look and reduce any sensitivity.
Preventing gum disease
You may be able to prevent gum disease by controlling the amount of plaque and tartar that build up on your teeth. To do this you should:
Brush and floss your teeth properly
Brush your teeth for a least 2 minutes twice a day and floss daily. Rinsing your teeth with mouthwash won’t remove the plaque, you need to brush it off with a toothbrush.
You should also use inter dental brushes or dental floss to clean between your teeth.
Your dentist can show you how to use dental floss and brush your teeth correctly.
Visit your dentist and hygienist regularly
Visiting a dentist for regular scale and polish treatments will assist in the deep removal of food, plaque and tartar build up both on the tooth, and below the gum line. Tartar can’t be removed when you brush and floss at home.
Regular dental examinations will also allow your dentist to keep an eye on your overall oral health, which means any potential issues could be addressed sooner.
If you smoke, speak to your GP or pharmacist about giving up. Smoking makes you more likely to develop gum disease and can make it harder to treat gum disease.