The Early Signs of Gum Disease: 5 Things to Look Out For
Maintaining good oral hygiene is crucial for overall health, and gum health plays a significant role in the well-being of your teeth and mouth. Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is a prevalent condition that affects millions of people worldwide. If left untreated, gum disease can lead to serious dental issues — even tooth loss.
The good news is that you can prevent gum disease, and it can be treated — especially when detected early. Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing at least once per day is necessary for preventing plaque buildup that leads to gum disease. It’s also vital to maintain a healthy diet because the foods you consume also affect the health of your teeth and gums.
In addition to brushing and flossing, it’s important to visit your dentist every six months for a professional cleaning and dental checkup. During these appointments, your dentist can examine your gums for signs of gum disease and provide treatment options if necessary.
In the following, we'll explore how gum disease begins and go over five early signs of gum disease that you should be aware of in order to protect your oral health.
The stages of gum disease typically begin with the accumulation of plaque — a sticky film composed of bacteria, food particles, and saliva — that forms on the teeth and along gum tissue.
When we consume carbohydrates and sugars, the bacteria in our mouths feed on these substances and produce acids. Over time, these acids combine with saliva and food debris to form plaque, which adheres to the tooth surfaces. If plaque is not removed through regular brushing and flossing, it can harden into tartar (calculus) within 24 to 72 hours. Keep in mind that tartar is a rough, porous substance that cannot be eliminated through regular oral hygiene practices and requires professional dental cleaning to be removed.
As plaque and tartar accumulate, the bacteria within them release toxins that irritate the gum tissues. This irritation triggers an inflammatory response from the body — leading to the first stage of gum disease known as gingivitis. With gingivitis, the gums become red, swollen, and may bleed easily during brushing or flossing. The good news is that gingivitis is usually reversible with proper dental care — including regular dental cleanings and improved oral hygiene habits.
However, if gingivitis is left untreated, it can progress to periodontitis — the advanced stage of gum disease. At this stage, the inflammation and infection caused by the bacteria not only affect the gums but also begin to damage the connective tissues and bone that support your teeth. As the disease progresses, the gums may recede and begin forming pockets between the gums and teeth. These pockets provide even more space for plaque and bacteria to accumulate, further exacerbating the condition. Over time, the destruction of bone and connective tissues can lead to tooth mobility and eventual tooth loss.
5 Warning Signs of Gum Disease
The main culprit behind gum disease is poor oral hygiene. And if you are developing gum disease, early treatment is best. Here are five early signs to look out for so you can see your dentist, bring up your concerns, and begin gum disease treatment.
1. Gum Inflammation and Redness
One of the earliest signs of gum disease is swollen gums or any inflammation and redness of the gums. This is because healthy gums should appear pink and firm, but if you notice that your gums look swollen, tender, or redder than usual, it could indicate the onset of gum disease. At this point, you should pay attention to changes in your gum's appearance and consult your dentist if you notice any persistent inflammation.
2. Bleeding Gums
Healthy gums should not bleed during regular activities like brushing, flossing, or eating. And if you notice any bleeding from your gums, it might be a sign of gum disease. Bleeding gums also occur when plaque and tartar buildup at the gum line begins to irritate the soft tissue — causing the gums to become sensitive and prone to bleeding. So if you notice any persistent bleeding, it's essential to address this issue promptly to prevent the progression of gum disease.
3. Bad Breath (Halitosis)
Persistent bad breath, also known as halitosis, is another early sign of gum disease. This is because the bacteria in plaque release foul-smelling toxins that can lead to chronic bad breath. As such, regular brushing, flossing, and professional cleanings can help control bad breath caused by gum disease. And if your bad breath persists despite good oral hygiene practices, it's best to consult your dentist for a thorough evaluation.
4. Receding Gums
As gum disease advances, you may notice that your gums are receding or pulling away from your teeth. This can create visible gaps between the teeth and gums — making your teeth appear longer than usual. Receding gums also expose the tooth roots and can lead to tooth sensitivity and vulnerability to decay. And as mentioned, early intervention can prevent further gum recession and protect your dental health.
5. Pockets and Spaces Between Teeth
In a healthy mouth, the gum tissue fits snugly around the teeth — forming shallow spaces called sulci. However, in the early stages of gum disease, these spaces may deepen — leading to the formation of pockets between the gums and teeth. These pockets become breeding grounds for bacteria, which can exacerbate gum disease. If you notice any spaces or widening of pockets, it's best to seek a dental evaluation because your dentist can measure these pocket depths during a dental examination to assess the health of your gums.
How To Treat Gum Disease
Treatment for gum disease varies depending on its severity. For example, in the early stages, when it's still mild gingivitis, treatment primarily involves using non-surgical methods and ensuring proper oral hygiene.
Common steps to treating gum disease in its early stage include:
Improving oral hygiene habits, i.e., regular brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash.
Scheduling in-depth, professional dental cleanings, known as scaling and root planing. This procedure helps to eliminate the bacteria responsible for gum inflammation.
Using antibiotics or antimicrobial mouth rinses to further control the infection.
Scheduling regular check-ups to monitor your progress and ensure the disease doesn't progress to more severe stages.
In advanced cases of gum disease, when it has progressed to periodontitis, more intensive treatment may be required. This can involve surgical procedures to clean the roots of the teeth and remove infected tissue.
For example, one common surgical approach is flap surgery, where the gums are lifted back to access the roots for thorough cleaning and then stitched back into place. In more severe cases where there's significant bone loss around the teeth, regenerative procedures, such as bone grafts, may be necessary to promote the regrowth of the bone and supporting structures.
After any surgical intervention, proper post-operative care and maintenance are essential. Typically, you'll be advised on a strict oral hygiene routine and may require frequent follow-up visits to monitor the healing process and prevent any recurrence of gum disease.
Fight Advanced Periodontitis With Regular Dental Visits at South Anchorage Dental Center
At South Anchorage Dental Center, we offer comprehensive expertise to ensure optimal oral health. You can count on the SADC team for the latest and most reliable information. Our priority is to make your dental care visits hassle-free, cost-effective, and as comfortable as possible. Rest assured that our dedicated team is committed to delivering personalized, amicable, and professional treatments that cater precisely to your oral health needs.
And because we care for you and your family’s dental care needs, we'll perform every procedure to the highest standards. We'll also try to make your visit more affordable with our SADC dental savings plan. At SADC, our goal is to make dental care accessible for people in and around the Anchorage area. With our help, you can avoid oral health problems, get professional treatment, and step on the path toward greater gum health.