Gum infections, gingivitis and periodontal (or gum) disease are progressive stages of a degeneration process that results in damage to your gums (and surrounding tissue) due to chronic oral inflammation and infection.
These degenerative diseases are set in motion by plaque accumulation on your tooth surfaces. Plaque is a bio-film made up of food residue and bacteria. The bacteria within plaque feed and develop on the food residue. The by-products of this fermentation process include toxins and bacterial acids. These by-products demineralise your tooth enamel which results in tooth decay.
Eventually, the bacteria along with their by-products work their way into the surrounding gum tissue and bone. As the infection and decay penetrate your gums, they become inflamed due to your body’s immune response. During inflammation, mast cells are activated and attack any foreign bodies at the infection site. The only drawback is that sometimes Mast cells can’t tell the difference between good and bad cells. If this occurs, the gum effectively starts to eat itself away, resulting in chronic bleeding and gum recession. This stage of degeneration is more commonly known as gingivitis.
As this degenerative process develops, inflammation and infection start to penetrate the surrounding bone. At this stage, the degenerative process is known as periodontitis or gum disease. If you have periodontitis, you are at very high risk of bone loss in the hard tissue surrounding the infection site. Eventually your tooth root surfaces become exposed, sensitive and loose as periodontitis continues to develop.
If enough bacteria accumulate in and around the gum, an infection may develop. Symptoms include localised pain and gum swelling which is an oral condition known as an abscess. Furthermore, the plaque, that originally caused the gum inflammation, hardens into calculus, also known as tartar or scale. Calculus leads to even more plaque that works its way down your teeth into the gums and jaw bone.
Symptoms of periodontal disease include:
- Red or swollen gums
- Sensitive, painful or bleeding gums
- Receding gums and exposed teeth
- Chronic bad breath
- A bad taste or foul odour in the mouth
- Loose dentures
- Loose teeth
- Gum abscesses(around and in-between teeth)
Periodontal disease may be linked to poor diet and oral hygiene habits, as well as medication. A complete dental examination is an important first step to identify the cause and nature of the disease. This initial examination includes a full gum assessment, x-rays (if required) and a full dental history review.
Periodontal disease treatment is usually provided in a single or series of visits depending on the severity of the disease. A full mouth debridement (scaling and root planing) is often required to deep clean plaque and calculus off the tooth and root surfaces. If a patient follows up treatment with an Active Maintenance oral health care plan, the gums should heal and fully recover in time.
Unfortunately, if any hard tissue (bone) or gum has been lost to disease already, it cannot regenerate nor be replaced. Therefore, it is crucial to diagnose any early signs of gum disease and prevent any potential oral health complications.