Curing Gum Disease: How to Handle Your Overall Health
Gum disease can have a severe impact on your well-being. The condition is caused by bacteria on teeth, usually because of poor hygiene habits. When the bacteria from food isn’t brushed and flossed away, it becomes a sticky layer on your teeth called plaque. If the plaque isn’t quickly dealt with, it hardens and becomes tartar. This tartar accumulates at the gum line and around your teeth, giving bacteria more surface area to grow. It becomes a vicious cycle. The more bacteria you have in your mouth, the more at risk you are for gum disease.
Gum disease isn’t often thought about until symptoms appear. The good news? It’s preventable!
Gingivitis is the mildest form of gum disease and is quite common. It’s important to take it seriously and treat it before it advances to periodontitis, which is more severe and has long-lasting impacts on oral health. Gingivitis causes redness and irritation in the gums at the base of your teeth, whereas periodontitis impacts soft bones that support teeth. Periodontitis can lead to tooth loss.
Gum disease is much more likely in adults than in children. Almost half of all adults aged 30 or older are already dealing with signs of gum disease. Children are less likely to suffer from gum disease due to younger teeth and therefore, less of a chance for plaque to build up. However, gingivitis may begin to occur after the age of 5.
There are several signs of gum disease, and each stage will present new symptoms. Be on the lookout for these warning signs in your and your children’s teeth:
Stages and Signs of Gum Disease
Healthy gums are consistently pink and firm and won’t be sensitive to the touch. There also shouldn’t be any bleeding during flossing or brushing.
The earliest signs of gingivitis are usually red and swollen gums. When you floss or brush, you may also hit tender or painful spots. As the gingivitis progresses, you may experience more sensitivity and bleeding while completing your usual brushing routine.
Gingivitis is curable! If treated quickly, this condition can clear up within a week or two.
Those suffering from early periodontitis may notice they have increasingly bad breath. As bacteria multiply in your mouth, they release toxins that can be foul-smelling. If you have an ongoing bad taste in your mouth, it might be time to investigate.
You may also start to see your gums shrinking. This is because the teeth and gums begin to separate as the bone breaks down. You’ll also experience increased sensitivity and spot more blood while brushing or flossing.
While periodontitis is more advanced than gingivitis, it is still curable with help from your dentist.
In addition to a receding gum line, one of the most common symptoms of moderate periodontitis is loose or shifting teeth. As periodontitis intensifies, it impacts the structural integrity of the bones that support your teeth. As the bone weakens, your teeth may move. Your smile will likely look different, and your teeth probably won’t line up like they used to. It may also become painful to chew.
In the most serious cases of periodontitis, you may lose your teeth. If the gum disease has progressed this far, the bone has become so weak, it can no longer structurally support the teeth. You may also see pus between your teeth.
Health Effects of Gum Disease
The condition of your teeth may seem irrelevant to the well-being of the rest of your body, but that’s not the case. Many people don’t realize how oral health links to other systems in the body. When someone suffers from moderate or severe periodontitis, there’s a possibility of bacteria entering the bloodstream through receded gum tissue. Those weak gums are essentially opening a door to the rest of the body. When bacteria move through the bloodstream, there’s a risk of heart disease, inflammation, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, pregnancy complications, respiratory disease, and more. Consistently brushing and flossing can save lives!
Gingivitis poses a much smaller risk for other complications since there are much fewer bacteria in the mouth. But, if left untreated, it can evolve into periodontitis, which makes you more susceptible to other health issues.
Gum disease isn’t contagious. You won’t catch it from sharing a toothbrush (but avoid doing this anyway) or kissing someone. You also can’t acquire gum disease from sharing food or drinks with someone else.
If you suspect you’re dealing with gum disease, there are several treatments to consider.
Gum Disease Treatment Options and Costs
Depending on the severity of your gum disease, you could need surgical treatment, or the dentist may suggest a less intense procedure. When dealing with gingivitis, it is extremely rare to need surgical intervention. However, it may be inevitable if your gingivitis has advanced into moderate or severe periodontitis.
Surgical treatments for gum disease
In situations where the periodontitis is aggressive, treating through surgical means is the best option.
Your dentist or oral surgeon may suggest soft tissue grafts, which involve removing tissue from the roof of your mouth and then implanting it on the severely receded gum line. This improves the appearance of the shrunken gum line and can help fight against more gum recession.
Another treatment that may be presented to you is called bone grafting. This is an option when the bone that supports your teeth has become very weak. Using your own bone (from somewhere else in the body) or a synthetic version, the surgeon will place a graft to hold your teeth in place and encourage your own bone to grow back slowly.
Professionals often use hydrogen peroxide to reduce the effects of gum disease. In some cases, a doctor will perform a flap surgery, where small incisions are made into the gum so it can be lifted back to see the roots of the teeth. At that time, hydrogen peroxide is applied to disinfect the area and remove plaque below the gum line.
Non-surgical treatments for gum disease
Surgery isn’t always the answer for gum disease. If your condition hasn’t reached the severe stage, other approaches exist.
Your dentist or hygienist may recommend scaling, the process of stripping or scraping bacteria and plaque from your teeth and at the gum line. They may use a metal tool or an ultrasonic device for this process.
Once scaling is completed, most dentists will suggest performing root planing. This process is similar to scaling but focuses on the roots of the teeth under your gum line. The roots are smoothed so bacteria can’t easily reattach to the tooth.
Sometimes, medical professionals can prescribe an antibiotic to fight mild gum disease. This might be a gel or rinse to use after brushing and flossing.
Costs will vary depending on the severity of your gum disease and which option you need for treatment. In some situations, the price of the treatment depends on the time it takes to complete it. For example, the Alberta Dental Association recommends approximately $84 for every 15 minutes of a root planing procedure. The recently announced Canada Dental Benefit may be helpful with planning the budget for you or a family member’s treatment.
How to choose the right dentist
If you’re dealing with pain, sensitivity, bleeding gums, or misaligned teeth, you may have gum disease and should make an appointment with a dentist before it worsens. To find the right professional for you, we recommend asking these questions:
- Do others recommend the dentist?
- How much experience do they have?
- Do you feel comfortable with them?
- Does the dentist encourage questions and answer them in a way that puts you at ease?
- Are you confident in their abilities?
- Is their clinic in a location that is convenient for you?
Home Remedies for Gum Disease
If you want to cure your gum disease without a dentist, there are several things you can do at home.
Developing a solid oral hygiene routine (that you consistently follow!) is a great place to start for prevention and treatment. Brushing your teeth at least twice a day, followed by flossing and rinsing with mouthwash, is the ultimate first line of defense against gingivitis. Mouthwash can help you prevent plaque buildup, but only if you choose the right one.
You’ll also want to select a toothpaste with the right ingredients. For example, do you see hydrogen peroxide and fluoride listed? Good! Hydrogen peroxide is great for fighting plaque and tartar buildup, and fluoride is the best active ingredient for strengthening your teeth.
Try a warm salt water rinse for short-term pain relief from swollen gums. It won’t fix the problem, but could temporarily ease the discomfort you’re experiencing. Mix ¾ of a teaspoon of table salt into a glass of warm water, and swish it around your mouth for 30 seconds. Then, spit it out, don’t swallow the mixture. The salt may reduce the inflammation until you can get to a dentist for an expert opinion.