Many people practice oral hygiene and visit their dentist as a way of preventing tooth decay. However, proper oral hygiene and regular dental visits are not only beneficial for your teeth, but your gums as well. In fact, the same bacteria that cause tooth decay can also affect your gums and cause gum disease.
Unfortunately, gum disease is highly common and it is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that as many as 47.2% Americans over the age of 30 have some form of gum disease. Gum disease can occur in two different forms: gingivitis or periodontitis. Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that can usually be reversed with proper treatment. Periodontitis, on the other hand, is an advanced form of gum disease that can only be managed, but not reversed.
With that being said, the key to good treatment outcomes for gum disease is finding it early. In most cases, regular dental exams every six months allow for an early diagnosis of possible gum disease. However, there are also some signs that can indicate you need to schedule an appointment with your dentist to be evaluated for gum disease:
Changes in Gum Appearance
One of the first telltale signs of gum disease are changes is the way your gums look. Healthy gums are firmly attached to the teeth, cover the tooth roots, and are a coral pink or slightly darker color. When your gums begin to change in color or the way they fit around your teeth, this is usually and indication that something is not right. For example, gums that turn dark pink or red can signal inflammation. Gums that are swollen, loose around the teeth, or that bleed easily can also signal inflammation. In most cases, gum inflammation is a result of gum disease.
When the gums begin to pull away from the teeth, this is known as gum recession. Gum recession can occur for a variety of reasons, one of them being gum disease. When bacteria accumulate along the gum line, this causes the gums to be inflamed. In response to the inflammation, the gums will slowly begin to pull away from the bacteria responsible for the inflammation. Unfortunately, this often creates gum pockets that house more bacteria and continue the recession process. At first gum recession may look like gums loosely fitting around the teeth. Then the teeth may appear larger or longer. If gum recession continues, it can eventually lead to loose teeth.
In some cases, gum recession may also be accompanied by a sharp, deep pain experienced while consuming foods and beverages that are hot, cold, or sweet. This is known as tooth sensitivity and it happens when the tooth roots are exposed to hot, cold, or sweet stimuli. This is because these stimuli can travel through the exposed dentin of tooth roots to reach the tooth nerve. Pain from gum disease can also manifest itself through tender gums that cause pain while chewing. Most cases of early gum disease don’t cause pain, however pain is an indication of severe inflammation that can occur with progressing gum disease.
If you notice changes in the appearance of your gums, gum recession, or pain, these are signs that you should be evaluated for gum disease immediately to prevent it from progressing. Depending on the severity of your gum disease, it may be able to be reversed with treatment. However if left untreated, gum disease will continue to progress and cause a variety of complications.
Dr. Gerard J. Lemongello Jr. graduated from the University of Florida College of Dentistry and has been in private practice since 1987. His focus is on cosmetic and comprehensive restorative rehabilitative dentistry. He is a member of the American Dental Association, Florida Dental Association and Academy of General Dentistry, and is an accredited member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.