What is gum disease and how can it be prevented?

Aug 06, 2020
Taking good care of your gums is important too. Source: Getty.

We all know that keeping your teeth clean is important to your oral and overall health. But it’s not all about how straight and white your teeth are! Taking good care of your gums is important too as poor gum health can lead to gum disease.

In line with Dental Health Week, which runs from August 3-9, the Australian Dental Association (ADA) is now urging Australians to pay closer attention to their gums so they can spot early signs of the disease. In fact, figures from the ADA released this week show 28.8 per cent of adults have gum disease, a 9 per cent increase from the last time it was measured.

What is gum disease?

Gum disease is usually caused by a build-up of plaque, a sticky coating that forms when bacteria in your mouth build up on your teeth and along the gum line. Plaque that is not removed can cause infections that can hurt the gum and bone and cause redness and swelling, leading to gum disease.

The two main stages of gum disease are gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that causes your gums to become inflamed, tender, red, swollen and prone to bleeding. If gingivitis is not treated, it can develop into periodontitis, an advanced form of gum disease. Periodontitis affects the gums and the bones that hold your teeth in place, Dr Fleur Creeper tells Starts at 60.

“Around four in 10 adults over 75 have periodontitis which affects the vital structures that support the teeth including the bone, ligament and gums,” Dr Fleur says. “Untreated, it can lead to loss of bone surrounding and supporting the teeth and they can become loose and fall out.”

She says people most at risk for gum disease are current or past smokers, those with uncontrolled diabetes, people with metabolic syndrome on the border of getting diabetes, and those with certain general health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

“There’s also a genetic component in who gets it and who doesn’t though there’s no conclusive data to show how much this plays a part,” she says. “But it’s important whatever your age to look out for the early signs.”

According to the ADA, signs that you might have gum disease include bad breath, bleeding or receding gums, and the gaps between your teeth increasing.

Keep your gums healthy

Dr Fleur has a few suggestions on how you can reduce the chances of gum disease:

  • She recommends paying a visit to your dentist regularly and keeping on top of your at-home dental care routine. “Good home care by the patient, in combination with treatment by the dentist, will help significantly in preventing and managing the disease.”
  • She advises brushing twice daily with a fluoridated toothpaste and cleaning between the teeth once a day. “Don’t be scared to clean near the gums with a soft toothbrush too.”
  • If you smoke, she says to think about quitting as smoking can hide the early warning signs of gum disease and stop treatment from working properly.
  • Dr Fleur also recommends eating a wide variety of nutritious foods and limiting sugary foods and drinks.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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