How do you know if you have gum disease, why is it dangerous and how is it treated? We chatted with an oral hygienist to find out…
“Around 80% of humans have some form of gum disease,” says Sarie Liebenberg, an oral hygienist from Sandton, Johannesburg.
Two of the most common forms of gum disease is called gingivitis and periodontitis.
What is gingivitis?
Gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease and refers to the inflammation of the soft tissue around the teeth, where the bone around the teeth is not as yet affected.
Gingivitis can be cured without leaving permanent damage to the gum tissue.
What is periodontitis?
Periodontitis can develop if gingivitis is not treated.
Periodontitis is the inflammation of the soft tissue around the teeth as well as loss of the supporting structure (bone) around the teeth.
The progression of periodontitis can be halted if a patient seeks treatment in time, but this condition can leave irreversible damage to the supporting bone around the teeth.
The frightening thing is that if periodontitis is not treated continuous bone loss will lead to the potential loss of teeth!
We all have good and bad bacteria in our mouths
“Everybody has bacteria in their mouths. It is called oral flora. Oral flora consists of the so-called good and bad bacteria. As long as there is a balance between the good and the bad bacteria, disease will not occur,” explains Liebenberg.
She says that problems can arise when the production of acidic compounds by microorganisms leads to damage of the teeth and gums.
“For this reason, we brush our teeth twice a day and floss at least once a day.”
Everybody has bacteria in their mouths that consists of the so-called good and bad bacteria. As long as there is a balance between the good and the bad bacteria, disease will not occur
How do you know if you have gingivitis?
Gingivitis can be recognised by red, swollen gums that bleed easily when you brush your teeth.
“To treat gingivitis, you need to remove the plaque (bacteria) and calculus (calcified plaque) on the teeth and underneath the gums. This cannot be done with your toothbrush anymore, and an oral hygienist or dentist needs to assist you with their specialised instruments,” she says.
Gingivitis cannot be cured by simply rinsing with a mouth rinse. The cause of the inflammation (plaque and calculus) needs to be removed first. However, “to help speed up the healing process, a specialised mouth rinse, like Andolex C, can be used,” Liebenberg says.
Unlike gingivitis, periodontitis takes years to develop. One of the dangers of periodontitis is the fact that it is not necessarily painful. A person can have periodontitis already, but not seek help, which reduces the chances of early invention and treatment.
Research has shown that periodontitis has a strong link to certain diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, respiratory disease and cancer.
Although the exact link between oral conditions and these medical conditions is still not yet fully understood, evidence now shows that we cannot isolate the mouth from the rest of the body.
Bleeding gums caused by plaque and calculus on the teeth and underneath the gums is one of the major reasons for bad breath.
Brushing is not enough
“By brushing alone, we only remove about 60% of plaque. Interdental care in the form of flossing, interdental brushes or water irrigation is needed to remove the other 40% of plaque that forms in between the teeth and underneath the gums,” Liebenberg says.
Despite being very preventable, oral disease is the most widespread chronic disease.
Having a professional dental cleaning by your oral hygienist every six months, and daily flossing (or other form of cleaning in between the teeth) and brushing of your teeth twice daily, can help to reduce your chances of developing gingivitis.
- Liebenberg, S. Gum Disease (Gingivitis and Periodontitis) July 2018
- Oral Health Month. The South African Dental Association
- Oral Health. American Dental Association
- American Academy of Periodontology: Gum Disease and other Systemic Diseases
- World Oral Health Day 20 March. Say Ahh Think Mouth Think Health)
- Links between oral & general health: The Mouth-Body Connection
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