What is Gum Disease?
Gum disease is an infection of the tissues and bones that support and surround the teeth. Plaque contains food, bacteria and bacterial waste products that accumulate on your teeth after eating. If it is left on your teeth, your gums become irritated.
When plaque builds up and hardens into tartar (also known as calculus) the bone structures around the teeth become affected. The early stage of gum disease is known as gingivitis – this is when gums can become red, sore, swollen, bleed easily or be painful, often during tooth brushing.
If gingivitis is left untreated, it can progress to peridontitis where the inner layer of the gum and bone recede from the teeth and form pockets.
The spaces between the teeth and gums become infected, and bacterial toxins begin to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold the teeth together. Over time, the pockets deepen and destroy bone and gum tissue.
Eventually, teeth start to feel unsteady and fall out. It is therefore essential to brush and floss your teeth daily, visit the dentist regularly, eat healthy foods and limit your intake of sweets to maintain good oral hygiene.
Symptoms and signs
- The common symptoms and signs of gum disease include:
- Receding gums
- Bleeding or painful gums
- Red, swollen, sore and tender gums
- Discoloration of gums
- Formation of spaces between teeth and gums
- Loose teeth
- Changes in the way teeth fit together on biting, or the way dentures fit together
- Continuous bad breath or bad taste in the mouth (halitosis)
What causes Gum Disease?
Gum disease develops as a result of a plaque build up because of poor oral hygiene – not brushing and flossing teeth regularly and visiting the dentist. A number of factors may contribute to gum disease and include:
- Poor diet
- Braces, dentures or teeth irregularities
- Medical conditions such as diabetes or Down syndrome
- Hormonal changes, particularly during puberty, pregnancy and menopause
- Inadequate sleep
- Certain drugs such as contraceptives, antidepressants, steroids, anti-epilepsy or cancer medication
How is Gum Disease diagnosed?
The diagnosis of gum disease is based on a thorough examination of your mouth by a dentist. Your gums are checked for swelling bleeding or firmness while your teeth and bite are also assessed.
A full mouth x-ray is taken to determine the extent of gum disease. If gum disease has progressed to periodontitis, you may be referred to a periodontist – a specialist in gum care disease.
Help and treatment for Gum Disease
The treatment of gum disease generally depends on the severity of the condition. Treatment options include healthy eating, proper brushing and flossing, regular visits to the dentist, non-surgical therapy and surgery.
If you have developed gingivitis, your dentist or oral hygienist will clean your teeth using a scaler to remove plaque as well as an electric toothbrush with grainy toothpaste. Your dentist will usually recommend an antiseptic mouthwash such as chlorhexidine and also teach you how to brush and floss your teeth properly.
If periodontitis develops, scaling or root planning is performed to scrape and remove plaque and tartar from teeth above and below the gum line. Antibiotics in the form of medicated mouthwashes or antibiotic containing gels may be applied to kill off bacteria.
More severe episodes of periodontitis may require surgery or gingival grafting where healthy gum tissue is removed from another part of the mouth to replace diseased tissue.
Natural and holistic treatments have been used for centuries to treat the symptoms of gum disease and overall dental health. Treatments such as herbal remedies are a much safer, more natural alternative to use in the mouth without the harmful side effects of conventional medication.
Herbal ingredients such as Hypoxis Rooperi (extract of African Potato), Mentha Piperita, Viscum Album, Astralagus Membranaceus and Agathosma Betulina (also known as buchu) are excellent for the immune system, acting as a supportive tonic and natural antiseptic. In addition, Chamomile, Echinacea, and Myrrh can also provide anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial actions that are beneficial for the treatment of gum disease.
Tips to prevent gum disease
- There are several effective ways to prevent gum disease and ensure healthier gums and teeth:
- Floss your teeth daily before brushing to remove plaque from those hard-to-reach places in your mouth
- Brush your teeth properly twice a day for at least two minutes
- Use a toothpaste that contains fluoride to help fight gum disease and prevents plaque build up
- Use an electric toothbrush for more thorough cleaning as they are more effective than manual toothbrushes and are able to remove plaque below the gum line
- Eat a healthy diet packed with vegetables and fruit
- Limit your intake of sweets and sugary foods
- Replace toothbrushes every three months because new toothbrushes remove plaque more easily than used ones
- Stop smoking as it destroys gum tissue, causes tartar formation and bone loss
- Avoid long term use of certain drugs such as antidepressants, antihistamines or muscle relaxants as they dry out the mouth and can cause tooth decay and gum disease
- Visit your dentist every six months for routine checkups