Many of us are familiar with the importance of dental hygiene and what this means in terms of looking after our teeth. What is less well known is that dental health encompasses gums as well our teeth and that without being proactive in the care of this area of the mouth, we are at risk of endangering our overall health. Below, we take a closer look at gum disease; how to recognise it, how to prevent it and where to seek further support and guidance from.
What is gum disease?
Most people, especially adults, will have a level of gum disease and it is likely that you will experience it at least once. It is not as common in children. It is caused by the build-up of plaque on and around your teeth. Plaque collects in the mouth due to a lack of or inefficient teeth brushing. It is the bacteria in the plaque that, if not cleaned away, will irritate the gums and in the longer-term cause gum disease.
Signs and symptoms of gum disease
Initially, any issues with the gums will present itself as bleeding when you brush your teeth. Bad breath is also common during the first stages. This stage of gum disease is also referred to as gingivitis.
If not treated, gingivitis can lead to a more serious condition of the gums, known as periodontitis. Periodontitis damages the tissue around your teeth which is essential for keeping them secure and in place. Lack of action in dealing with periodontitis can ultimately cause your teeth to fall out. This is because the bone in your jaw can be damaged, creating pockets between the teeth and gums. Without that support from bone and gums, the teeth are at higher risk of falling out.
If your gums are healthy, they should not bleed during your teeth brushing routine and will be pink and firm.
How to prevent and manage gum disease
The easiest and simplest way to prevent gum disease is to brush your teeth regularly – at least twice a day. Other oral hygiene actions such as flossing, using dental brushes and/or mouthwash also help to prevent the build-up of plaque.
Visiting your dentist regularly and keeping routine appointments is also a must. If you are not currently registered with a dentist, look online for a list of dental clinics in Dublin and contact them to arrange your first appointment. Your dentist will be able to advise if you have gum disease, particularly if you have missed this yourself. If deemed necessary they will use a periodontal probe (think stick with a bend on one end) to determine the extent of the disease. They may also recommend an x-ray to review the underlying bone and jaw. Importantly, they will also be able to check how you brush your teeth and advise you if it is not efficient or how you can achieve a better outcome.
Depending on the level of built-up plaque, your dentist may suggest having this removed. They can either do this themselves or refer you to a hygienist. As well as robust cleaning and removal of tartar (hardened plaque) for more severe cases of gum disease, such as periodontitis, further medical and dental treatment may be required.
How often you will need to see your dentist will depend on if you have gum disease, have had gum disease previously and whether there are other circumstances which put you at high risk of developing this disease i.e. you smoke or have diabetes. You shouldn’t, however, wait till you have a case of gum disease before seeing your dentist. It is good practice to see your dentist at least 1-2 a year to check your oral health.
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