Gum Disease FAQs

What is gum disease?

Gum disease describes swelling, soreness or infection of the tissues supporting the teeth. There are two main forms of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis.

What causes gum disease?

The human mouth can contain millions of bacteria which cause inflammation of the gums (gingivitis). This can progress to periodontitis when the gums pull away from the teeth forming spaces called pockets. These pockets can harbour more bacteria leading to more inflammation. If not treated, the bones and tissue that support the teeth are destroyed. Teeth may become loose and may need to be removed.

Can anyone get gum disease?

Gums disease can affect everyone if bacteria are allowed to build up on teeth but only susceptible people develop periodontitis where pockets develop and bone supporting the teeth is destroyed. The UK Adult Dental Health Survey of 2009 shows that 45% of the whole UK population has periodontitis.

The following groups get more severe gum disease than others:

  • People who smoke.  Gum disease can be 5 – 8x more severe in smokers
  • People with poorly controlled diabetes
  • People with a family history of gum disease

How do I know if I have gum disease?

You may have early gum disease if:

  • Your gums are red and swollen
  • Your gums bleed easily when you brush or eat hard foods. Bleeding gums are not normal
  • You have bad breath

With severe disease you may notice that:

  • Your teeth may become wobbly
  • Your gums may recede making the teeth look longer
  • Spaces may open up between the teeth or some teeth may become more prominent

Take action if you notice these signs. Contact your dentist who may provide assistance or refer you to a periodontist. Early intervention will improve the success of any treatment and will help prevent the loss of your teeth.

Who is a periodontist?

A periodontist is a dentist who has undertaken further study in the field of periodontology, which focuses on the diagnosing and managing gum diseases non-surgically and surgically. A periodontist also specialises in management of gum aesthetics as well as replacement of teeth with dental implants. A periodontist usually works in close partnership with a hygienist.

What does a hygienist do?

Dental hygienists, in common with the rest of the dental team, are concerned with your total oral health. Dental hygienists are an essential part of a comprehensive dental team, particularly in a periodontal practice. They work under the supervision of the periodontists.

A dental hygienist is able to:

  • Provide advice on dietary risk factors for tooth sensitivity, tooth decay, or tooth surface erosion
  • Carry out superficial and deep cleaning (with local anaesthesia if required) and personalised oral hygiene instruction.
  • Suggest and provide specific treatments for tooth sensitivity.

What will the periodontist do?

The periodontist will undertake a detailed examination of your teeth and gums and provide you with a treatment plan aiming at providing you with a healthy, comfortable mouth and an aesthetically pleasing smile.

Can gum disease be treated?

In most people the treatment aims to prevent the disease from getting worse and cannot reliably replace the support your teeth have already lost. Early intervention will improve the success of any treatment.

Treatment is based on controlling the bacteria.

  • The bacteria can be cleaned away from both above and below the gum line to reduce the gum inflammation (deep cleaning or root surface debridement). This is usually done with a local anaesthetic to make sure that this process is completely comfortable for you.
  • Antibiotic drugs are used for some cases to reduce the bacterial levels
  • Effective daily home cleaning is essential for treatment success. You can be taught the best methods of cleaning your teeth and gums to remove the bacteria on a daily basis.
  • These cleaning methods will be different for different people.
  • If you have severe gum disease you may require surgical treatment to remove inflamed gum tissue or to help grow bone around teeth. This is usually done under local anaesthetic and it is a painless procedure.
  • Your response to treatment can be checked and monitored to make sure that the problem doesn’t reoccur.

What are the benefits of treatment?

  • Any bleeding or swelling of the gums should reduce or disappear
  • If your teeth are loose they should become firmer
  • Your breath will become fresher

Healthier gums mean that you should be able to keep your teeth longer. The improvement will depend on how good your cleaning becomes and how severe your disease was to begin with.

Will the treatment be successful?

Several long term clinical trials have proven the high success levels of gum therapy in maintaining teeth for decades. There is also evidence to show that treated gum disease can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and can improve blood glucose level in diabetic patients.

What happens if gum disease is not treated?

Gum disease progresses painlessly on the whole and most patients do not notice the damage it is doing. Over a number of years, the bone supporting the teeth can be lost leading to mobility or drifting of the teeth, as well as, gaps appearing between the teeth. If the disease is left untreated for a long time, treatment can become more difficult. Moreover, this disease can affect implants and lead to failure of implant treatment if it is not treated, monitored and maintained.