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Causes of Bleeding Gums and Gum Disease

Periodontal Disease Explained

You’ve probably heard about the dangers of cavities and tooth decay since you were a child. However, you may not have heard so much about another, more common and less known disease; gum disease. Periodontal disease, more commonly called gum disease, is a bacterial infection. It occurs when the toxins in plaque inflame and irritate the gum tissue. At this point in the disease, a dentist can reverse the damage caused by gum disease. Without treatment, the mildest form of the disease can progress to a more destructive form of periodontal disease. The infection creates pockets between the teeth and gums, where it can damage the support structures of the teeth. The infection can also spread throughout the body.

Why Gums Are Just as Important as Teeth

When most people picture an attractive smile, they envision pearly white, perfectly aligned teeth. Gums rarely come into the picture, but gums frame people’s teeth and play a very important role in the overall health of your mouth. However, when they are healthy pink and fit tightly around each tooth, no one notices them. When someone has gum disease, their gums look red and puffy and sometimes, they may have visible pockets of pus when the teeth meet the gum tissue. Healthy gums are gums no one notices when they comment on your attractive smile, severely unhealthy gums will cause notice.

Unfortunately, not everyone knows when they have unhealthy gums. Over 75 percent of adults and 50 percent of teenagers have some form of gum disease, but of those people, only a tiny fraction know they have the disease. 15 percent to be exact. If that’s not shocking enough, gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in American adults. It’s certainly a pervasive problem, and one that doesn’t get enough attention.

Why Gum Disease Develops

We all get plaque on our teeth every day. Brushing and flossing every day will remove the accumulated bacteria and plaque, but if it accumulates, it hardens into tartar. Only a dentist or dental hygienist can remove tartar and only with special instruments. The bacteria in plaque and tartar will cause gum inflammation, called gingivitis, if it’s left in contact with gums for too long.

Gingivitis is reversible, but without treatment and better oral care at home, it can turn into periodontitis, a more advanced form of gum disease where the bacteria gets underneath the gums.

Some people have a higher chance of developing gum disease if they have these risk factors:

  • Tobacco use
  • A family history of gum disease
  • An illness that makes it more difficult to fight infections
  • Medications that reduce saliva flow
  • Hormonal changes in women during pregnancy or menopause
  • Chronic stress that makes it more difficult to fight infections

Symptoms of Periodontal Disease

Since gum disease is rarely painful until it’s advanced, it is important to examine your gums regularly to look for any signs of the disease. Keep an eye out for signs like these:

  • Red or purple gums
  • Swollen, puffy gums
  • Tender gums that hurt when you touch them
  • Blood in your saliva when spitting after brushing your teeth
  • Pus between your gums and teeth
  • Persistent bad breath
  • A change in your bite
  • Loose teeth

Other Health Conditions Periodontal Disease Increases the Risk of Developing

Research shows that the inflammation that causes periodontal disease can also be responsible for an increased risk of other illnesses like heart ailments, diabetes, and certain cancers. For this reason and the others listed above, it is vital to maintain a strong and consistent relationship with your dentist. Don’t put your health at risk and don’t miss a gum problem when it’s small or you’ll be more likely to face lasting problems.

What Are the Most Common Forms of Gum Disease?

According to the American Academy of Periodontology, there are seven classifications of periodontitis. The most common forms of gum disease are:

Gingivitis – This early-stage gum disease is not destructive like periodontitis, but it is still important to seek treatment when you have gingivitis. The disease can advance to periodontitis if it isn’t reversed. If you notice your gums bleeding when you brush or your gums have become swollen and tender, see a dentist. He or she will probably recommend a dental teeth cleaning, better brushing and flossing habits, and an anti-plaque mouthwash. The treatment is simple, effective and can save your teeth from periodontitis.

  • Chronic Periodontitis – Initially, chronic periodontitis starts as untreated gingivitis. While gingivitis does not always turn into chronic periodontitis, no one gets chronic periodontitis without having gingivitis first. The disease is painless in most cases and it’s characterized by the pockets that form between the teeth and gums. Left untreated, chronic periodontitis will begin to destroy the ligaments and bone that holds the tooth sockets. Treatment includes a deep dental cleaning to remove the bacteria from under the gums and antibiotics. Patients must practice diligent dental care at home too, for treatment to be effective.
  • Aggressive Periodontitis – There are localized and generalized forms of aggressive periodontitis. The disease usually occurs in younger, healthy individuals, especially those who have a family history of the disease. Treatment can often stabilize the disease, but frequent dental appointments are essential as there is a high risk for recurrence.
  • Necrotizing Periodontitis – Necrotizing periodontitis usually has a rapid onset, occurring in younger individuals with health issues, such as HIV or severe malnutrition. It’s characterized by gum tissue, periodontal ligament and bone death. Patients often feel severe pain and experience attachment loss.

How Can I Maintain Good Gum Health

Gum health is relatively easy to maintain. Many of the same things you can do also help keep your teeth in good shape, including:

  1. Brush your teeth twice a day, spending 30 seconds on each quarter of your mouth.
  2. Use a soft-bristle American Dental Association approved toothbrush with rounded tips and varying height bristles.
  3. Floss daily
  4. Use an anti-plaque mouthwash
  5. Avoid sticky, sugary foods
  6. Avoid tobacco use
  7. See a dentist twice a year for an exam and teeth cleaning

Maintaining good gum health can help you keep your smile and help protect your general health, too.

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