Gum disease is perhaps the most common oral health issue in the United States, with a majority of American adults dealing with some version of it every year. Gum diseases result from gum infections, which occur when bacteria take up residence inside the gum line and cause all manner of problems. Fortunately, gum infections are often easy to treat if caught early, and are even easier to prevent with proper oral hygiene. Let’s take a look at gum disease and gum infection, their causes and symptoms, and how we typically go about treating them.
Causes and Symptoms
Gum diseases and gum infections are most commonly caused by bacteria growing in plaque, a colorless sticky layer that forms on teeth and can lead to tartar buildup. As these bacteria multiply and spread, they infect the tissue of the gums and lead to a number of health problems. Symptoms of gum infection include the following:
- Bleeding gums, particularly when brushing or flossing.
- Puffy, swollen, red, or tender gums.
- Gum recession, i.e. gum tissue that moves away from the tooth.
- Persistent bad breath or bad taste in mouth.
- Loose teeth, e.g. teeth that can be moved back and forth or shifted.
- Poorly fitting teeth, manifesting as a change in your bite the way your teeth fit together.
- A change in the fit of partial dentures.
- Visible pus surrounding teeth and gums.
- Painful chewing, that is sharp or dull pains when chewing foods.
- Teeth that are overly sensitive to cold or hot temperatures.
If you experience any of these symptoms regularly, please consult your dentist. They may be the sign of gum disease, a gum infection, or another serious problem requiring immediate medical attention.
Treating Gum Infections
There are a number of ways to treat gum disease and gum infections. Routine dental exams and cleanings go a long way towards addressing the problem, and for milder cases that a cleaning or two may be all that’s necessary. Your dentist may recommend this first and see how your gum disease responds before suggesting more rigorous treatment.
For more advanced cases, your dentist or periodontist may recommend a more aggressive treatment. This may involve planing or scaling, which use a variety of tools, including manual, sonic, and laser instruments, to remove plaque and tartar both at and below the gum line. This works by physically removing the places bacteria liked to live and leaving the teeth, roots, and gums clean and bacteria free. This can take a bit longer than an average cleaning, and your dentist or periodontist may suggest sedation if the procedure needs to be really involved. The good news is that discomfort to the patient is generally minimal.
After a scaling or planing treatment, your dentist or periodontist may prescribe an antibiotic to help your recovery. These antibiotics may be either oral—taken as pills—or topical treatments applied as a gel directly to the gums. These help eliminate bacteria and speed the healing process after treatment for a gum infection.
In conclusion: gum diseases and gum infections can be serious, but they can be prevented or treated if caught early enough. A regular routine of brushing and flossing combined with regular trips to your dentist can go a long way towards preventing these issues, and can help you get treatment early on should the need arise.