How do I know if I have gum disease?

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Specialist Periodontist
Periodontal Care
BA, BDentSc(Dub), MFDS RCSEng, MFD RCSIre,
DChDent(Perio), CertEFP, FFD(Perio) RCSIre

Gum disease, or gingivitis, is a common condition which affects most of us at some stage of our lives. It is an inflammatory response of the gum tissues to bacterial plaque buildup.

Periodontal disease, or periodontitis, is a condition affecting about a third of the population, with a third of those in turn affected by severe disease. Periodontitis results in loss of the supporting structures of the tooth, including the surrounding bone and periodontal ligament connecting the tooth to the bone.

Swollen and red, bleeding gums are the classic signs of gum disease. Symptoms depend on the severity of the condition, with bleeding being one of the most common. However, this sign can be masked or even absent in smokers as a result of a compromised blood supply, which compounds the issue further.

Additional signs include bad breath or halitosis, gum recession resulting in the formation of dark or black triangles between the teeth, or the classic “getting long in the tooth”. Mobility of the teeth can also occur, which can result in movement or migration of the teeth. The end stage of the condition is tooth loss due to loss of supporting structures around the teeth.

Signs to look out for include the following:

  1. Bleeding gums
  2. Swollen gums
  3. Redness
  4. Painful gums
  5. Loss of gum tone and texture
  6. Gum recession
  7. Bad taste
  8. Halitosis or bad breath
  9. Tooth loosening
  10. Difficulty chewing
  11. Tooth migration

While both acute and chronic forms of gum disease exist, it is the chronic form that predominates. Chronic periodontital disease goes largely unnoticed as it is a non-painful condition and the above signs and symptoms generally present at the later stages or with advanced disease.

The only true way to know if you have gum or periodontal problems is to be examined by your dentist. A simple screening exam can alert us to the presence of any disease, which would then warrant a more detailed mapping of the gum tissues, including radiological analysis of the supporting bone structures. Groups with a higher risk include smokers, uncontrolled diabetics and those with a genetic predisposition. Stress and poor diet have also been implicated.

Good oral hygiene regimens, including regular and frequent visits to your hygienist, can help to reduce your risk of allowing periodontital disease to develop and progress, and indeed supportive periodontal regimes are considered to be the mainstay of controlling the condition. The advice for all patients is to continue with regular checkups at your dentist, including regular cleans by your hygienist. If your dentist feels there is a need for further investigation and management, they may then refer you to a periodontist for a consultation.

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