Just about every area of your body is susceptible to infection, including your mouth. And if you have an infection, it’s important to get treatment promptly. In the case of your mouth, infected gums can not only be very painful, they can also be a sign of a more serious condition such as advanced periodontal disease, otherwise known as periodontitis.
As soon as you notice a gum infection, you should consult with a dentist. Once gum infection is diagnosed, you will have numerous treatment options that will vary based on the severity of the gum infection.
What is Gum Disease?
Gum disease is an inflammation of the gums that can progress to affect the bone that surrounds and supports your teeth. It is caused by the bacteria in plaque, a sticky, colorless film that constantly forms on your teeth. If not removed through daily brushing and flossing, plaque can build up and the bacteria infect not only your gums and teeth, but eventually the gum tissue and bone that support the teeth. This can cause them to become loose, fall out or have to be removed by a dentist.
There are three stages of gum disease:
- Gingivitis: this is the earliest stage of gum disease, an inflammation of the gums caused by plaque buildup at the gumline. If daily brushing and flossing do not remove the plaque, it produces toxins (poisons) that can irritate the gum tissue, causing gingivitis. You may notice some bleeding during brushing and flossing. At this early stage in gum disease, damage can be improved, since the bone and connective tissue that hold the teeth in place are not yet affected.
- Periodontitis: at this stage, the supporting bone and fibers that hold your teeth in place are irreversibly damaged. Your gums may begin to form a pocket below the gumline, which traps food and plaque. Proper dental treatment and improved home care can usually help prevent further damage.
- Advanced Periodontitis: in this final stage of gum disease, the fibers and bone supporting your teeth are destroyed, which can cause your teeth to shift or loosen. This can affect your bite and, if aggressive treatment can’t save them, teeth may need to be removed.
Who Is At Risk Of Getting Gum Infection?
You are more likely to develop gum infections if you have one or more of the following risk factors.
Smoking is one of the biggest risk factors associated with the development of gum disease. This is because when bacteria attack your gums, the lower immune response and poor blood supply as a result of smoking mean your gums don’t fight back against the bacterial infection. If you smoke, it also lowers your chance of treatment working to improve your gum disease. If you stop smoking, your gums will start to attack the plaque caused by the bacteria, which means you will get the symptoms that have been suppressed by smoking, such as bleeding gums.
People with diabetes are at higher risk for developing infections, including gum disease. This is because diabetes causes your blood vessels to thicken.
The hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy can make your gums more sensitive. This makes it easier for inflammation to develop.
Prescription and over-the-counter medications can reduce the flow of saliva. Saliva helps protect your gums from bacteria. If your mouth is dry, it becomes more vulnerable to infections such as gum disease.
Some medicines can also cause abnormal overgrowth of your gum tissue, making it difficult to keep teeth and gums clean.
Existing Oral Conditions
Having calculus/tartar, large fillings or partial dentures increases your risks of gum disease developing. This is because they provide sites for bacteria to build up undisturbed, which then form more plaque.
Other Health Conditions
Treatments for HIV/AIDS and cancer can affect your immune system and therefore can negatively affect the health of your gums.
Some people are more prone to severe gum disease than others and this can run in families.
Although serious gum infections aren’t extremely common, they can lead to major issues if not treated in a timely manner. While most of us want to keep our teeth and gums healthy, your gums can be prone to gum infection if not cared for properly. Identifying warning signs that can lead to infected gums is an important way to help prevent further gum disease and all the side effects that come with it.
Red, Swollen Gums
This is one of the first signs your gums need attention. They may also feel tender or painful and bleed easily when you floss or brush.
If your teeth look longer than they used to, chances are they’re not growing — your gums are shrinking. This is happening because the gums are separating from your tooth.
If a sip of a cold drink makes you wince, your teeth may be telling you something. That’s a symptom of gum disease that often goes hand in hand with shrinking gums.
Your mouth is a nice, warm, and wet home for millions of bacteria. They feed on plaque, so the more of that you have, the bigger the buffet. Bacteria then release toxins that irritate gums and teeth, and have a foul smell.
Wiggly Or Shifting Teeth
Does your smile look a little different lately? Gum disease can attack the bones that hold your teeth in place, making them loosen or move. Periodontitis is the main cause, and it can even change the way your teeth fit together when you bite.
If you are suffering from any of the symptoms listed above, it is important that you visit and consult with your dentist to determine the severity of infection and the proper course of action to take to combat the issue.
Can Gum Infection Cause Health Problems Beyond Your Mouth?
Some researchers have observed that people with gum disease were more likely to develop heart disease or have difficulty controlling blood sugar than people without gum disease. Other studies showed that women with gum disease were more likely than those with healthy gums to deliver preterm, low birthweight babies. However, it is not been proven that gum disease is the cause of these conditions. It may be that another risk factor, such as smoking, is causing both the gum disease and the other condition.
More research is needed to clarify whether gum disease actually causes health problems beyond your mouth, and whether treating gum disease can keep other health conditions from developing.
How Is Gum Infection Diagnosed?
If you have any symptoms of gum infection, see your dentist or dental hygienist. At your dental visit the dentist or hygienist is likely to:
- ask about your medical history to identify underlying conditions or risk factors (such as smoking) that may contribute to gum disease
- examine your gums and note any signs of inflammation
- use a tiny ruler called a ‘periodontal probe’ to check for and measure any pockets. In a healthy mouth, the depth of these pockets is usually less than 3mls. This test for pocket depth is usually painless, but not always.
Your dentist or hygienist may also:
- take an x-ray to see whether there is any bone loss.
- refer you to a periodontist. Periodontists are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of gum disease and may provide you with treatment options that are not offered by your dentist.
How Is Gum Infection Treated?
Any of the symptoms may be a sign of a serious problem, which should be checked by a dentist. The main goal of treatment is to control the infection. The number and types of treatment will vary, depending on the extent of the disease. With any treatment, you will need to keep up good daily oral care at home. Your dentist may also suggest you quit smoking, if you do, to improve the outcome of the treatment.
Scaling And Root Planning
As gum disease progresses, plaque forms below your gum line. This is impossible for you to clean off by yourself. Instead, a dentist, periodontist, or dental hygienist can remove the plaque through a deep-cleaning method called scaling and root planing.
Scaling means scraping off the plaque from above and below your gum line. It is a deep clean of all the hard and soft deposits on your teeth. Root planing gets rid of rough spots on the tooth root where bacteria gather and helps remove bacteria that contribute to the disease.
In some cases, a laser may be used to remove plaque and tartar. This procedure can result in less bleeding, swelling and discomfort.
Medication may be used with treatment that includes scaling and root planing, but they cannot always take the place of surgery. Depending on how far the disease has progressed, the dentist or periodontist may still suggest surgical treatment. Long-term studies are needed to find out if using medications reduces the need for surgery and whether they are effective over a long period of time.
Talk with your dentist or periodontist about whether any mouthwashes, antibiotics or other medication would help in your case.
Surgery might be necessary if inflammation and deep pockets remain following treatment with deep cleaning and medications.
This common surgery involves lifting back your gums and removing the tartar. The gums are then sutured back in place so that the tissue fits snugly around the tooth again. This makes it easier to keep the area clean. After surgery, the gums will heal and fit more tightly around the tooth. This sometimes results in the teeth appearing longer.
Healthy gums are vital for strong teeth and the best way to make sure gums stay healthy is with a good oral health routine. It takes just three simple steps to keep gums and teeth clean and help prevent gum disease.
Visit A Dentist
Visit the dentist regularly for check-ups, as a professional can help spot problems with your gums before you experience any symptoms. Your dentist can also clean, scale and polish your teeth to remove stubborn build-up of plaque bacteria (calculus) and help to prevent gum disease. Stick to these steps and you can help to prevent gum disease, to keep your gums healthy and teeth strong.
Brush Your Teeth Twice A Day
Brush your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes using a manual or electric toothbrush with a small head and soft, rounded bristles. Use a Toothpaste, which physically removes the build of plaque bacteria along the gum line, helping to keep the seal between your gums and teeth tight. When used to brush twice daily it is 4x more effective* than a regular toothpaste at removing the main cause of bleeding gums.
Floss To Remove Plaque From Between Your Teeth
Use Dental Floss to remove plaque from hard to reach areas between your teeth. Remember to ease the floss gently into place as otherwise you could harm your gums.
Use An Anti-Gingivitis Mouthwash
You may also want to use a mouthwash that kills the bacteria that causes plaque. There are a variety available and some have more than one benefit (like strengthening enamel, preventing cavities, or whitening) for a healthier mouth all around.