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Gum (Periodontal) Disease

What is gum disease?

Gum disease will most likely affect most people at some time during their life. The main contributing factor of gum disease is the build-up of plaque on and between the teeth. Gum disease can range from simple gum inflammation, to more serious infections. In the worst cases, infection and lack of treatment may result in loss of teeth. There are two main stages of gum disease:

  • Gingivitis
  • Periodontitis

Gingivitis

Gingivitis is one of earlier stages of gum disease, and occurs when there is a build-up of plaque (or bacteria) on and/or between the teeth. This bacteria causes the gums to inflame and in some instances, bleed. Common signs of gingivitis include red and swollen gums that bleed easily, especially after flossing or brushing. Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease and can easily be reversed with good oral hygiene habits and a thorough clean from your dentist or hygienist. Gingivitis will not cause bone or tissue loss that holds the teeth in place.

Periodontitis

If gingivitis is not treated, it will often advance to periodontitis. Periodontitis is a severe stage of gum disease where the gums pull away from the teeth and form gaps (often called ‘pockets’) that become infected. Your immune system will then attempt to fight the bacteria and plaque in these pocket as it spreads and grows below the gum line. The body’s natural response to infection is to break down bacterial toxins, which consequently starts to break down the bone and connective tissue of the gums that hold the teeth in place. If periodontitis is not treated, the bones, gums and tissue that are infected and support the teeth, are destroyed. The teeth may eventually loosen and may have to be removed, or may fall out naturally.

Risk Factors

There are a few factors that may increase the risk of getting gums disease. These factors include:

  • Smoking – smoking is one of the most significant risk factors associated with the development of gum disease.
  • Poor Oral Hygiene - poor oral hygiene habits means plaque and bacteria are more likely to grow and expand, which causes gum disease.
  • Diabetes – people with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing varying infections, including gum disease.
  • Hormonal changes in females – hormonal changes make the gums more sensitive, making gingivitis easier to develop.
  • Medications – there are numerous prescription, herbal and over-the-counter medications that reduce the flow of saliva. Without sufficient amount of saliva, the mouth becomes more vulnerable to infections such as gum disease.
  • Other illnesses – Disease such as HIV/AIDS makes the body more susceptible to infections, also the medications used to manage such diseases also can negatively affect the health of the gums.
  • Poor Diet – diets high in sugar causes the build-up of plaque.

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