Do You Have Gum Disease?
Here’s Everything You Need to Know About the Signs, Causes, and Prevention Techniques
By Daisy Barringer
Not so fun fact: gum disease affects half of the U.S. adult population (nearly 163 million people!) and can have serious consequences not just for your dental health, but also for your overall health. Still, a lot of people don’t know what causes it or what warning signs to look for, which is why we asked a professional to help us sink our teeth into this topic.
We spoke to Dr. Miles Madison, a board-certified periodontist (a dentist with advance training in gum grafting, dental implants, and treating gum disease) and founder of Beverly Hills Periodontal Institute, which specializes in treating gum disease. The Institute studies the disease, specifically how it impacts the body, how to prevent it, and what to do if you see any signs that your gums aren’t as healthy as expected.
What is gum disease and why should you care?
Gum disease (periodontitis) is an infection that damages the soft tissue and bone that supports your teeth. There are several different kinds, but as Dr. Madison explains, the most common is caused by bacteria that thrive in the moist, warm environment of the mouth. While most bacteria are harmless, there are some types that are more aggressive and can do some serious damage.
“Once the more harmful type of bacteria gain entry into the mouth, they often settle in-between the gum and the tooth,” Dr. Madison said.
That causes inflammation, which causes a “pocket” to form between the gum and the tooth, which can turn into a home for the harmful bacteria and slowly cause the loss of the supporting bone around the tooth and eventually the tooth itself.
But it’s not just your teeth you have to worry about, Dr. Madison said.
“These harmful bacteria also wreak havoc on the body as a whole because they increase the body’s generalized state of inflammation thought to be the root cause (no pun intended) of many chronic diseases.”
In fact, studies show a high correlation between gum disease and heart disease, strokes, Alzheimer’s, pancreatic cancer, and even erectile dysfunction.
5 signs you may have gum disease
Here are five signs that show you’re at risk for gum disease. If you’re suffering from any of these symptoms, Dr. Madison recommends you consult a periodontist to go over your treatment options before things get any worse.
- Bleeding gums
Healthy gums should never bleed, no matter how much you brush or floss.
- Receding Gums
If the gums are pulling back, then it is usually a sign that something is amiss.
- Halitosis/bad breath
Chronic halitosis is usually a sign of gum disease. While most people think bad breath is the result of stomach gases and digestion, the real culprit is the same bacteria that causes gum disease.
- Shifting or loose teeth
Loose teeth or increased spacing between the teeth can be the result of diminishing bone support around your teeth.
- Mouth pain
Gum disease is usually painless, but if your gums have pain and/or swelling, that may be a sign of advanced gum disease.
How to prevent serious gum disease
The best way to prevent periodontitis is what you expect: a program of good oral hygiene that you practice consistently. Dr. Madison recommends:
You should brush for a minimum of two minutes twice a day. Electric toothbrushes such as Oral B or Sonicare are highly effective and usually have a built-in timer. Be sure to clean all surfaces of your teeth by placing the brush at a 45-degree angle and using short strokes. (FYI: you actually can brush too hard, which wears away tooth enamel.)
It’s hard to find anyone (other than the people in your dentist office) who are excited about flossing, but brushing alone only reaches 25 to 50 percent of your teeth’s surfaces. Flossing is how you get rid of the food particles that are stuck between your teeth or under your gums. If you can make it happen twice a day, amazing, but your dentist will still give you good marks if you make it at least a once-a-day habit.
- Professional teeth cleaning
A professional teeth cleaning by a dental hygienist/dentist should happen at least twice a year.
- Dental checkups with gum pocket measurements
Getting your teeth cleaned is essential, but you also need for your dentist or periodontist to take measurements of gum pockets at least once a year to determine the health of your gums. Knowing the numbers is an important step towards keeping your teeth and gums healthy.