Gum disease (gingivitis) can be treated relatively easier at home if you catch it earlier enough. However, many people ignore the early signs of gum disease and end up with more serious problems further down the line (periodontal disease).
As a dentist one of the first questions I ask patients when they come for a check up is whether they have any problems or concerns. Many people don’t mention anything until I look in their mouths and spot signs of inflammation. Then it emerges that bleeding gums are a regular occurrence for them when they brush their teeth, but something they thought was fairly normal.
Bleeding gums are not a normal part of brushing your teeth; unless you’re brushing too hard, it’s a sign that there’s an underlining health issue.
Similarly, patients might invest in mouthwashes and chewing gum to combat bad breath, when this can also be a sign of gum disease. It seems that many people aren’t really aware of prevalence of gum disease, most adults experience it at least once, or the symptoms they need to be on the look out for.
Treating Gum Disease Early
Gingivitis is the form of gum disease that most adults have to some degree. It’s the inflammation of the gums that cause them to become red and swollen, and they may bleed when you brush your teeth.
It’s unlikely that you will feel any pain, which is why gingivitis so often goes untreated, but if you don’t address the issue you could develop the more serious periodontal disease. The treatment for gingivitis is fairly straightforward – thorough cleaning of your teeth to remove plaque, and a good oral hygiene routine to prevent bacteria multiplying and creating more plaque.
This should include:
- Visiting the dentist so that they can assess how serious the condition is and advise you accordingly,
- Brushing your teeth for 2 minutes twice per day,
- Flossing to remove food particles from in between your teeth,
- Using interdentals to remove the plaque that your toothbrush misses,
- Regularly using a GumSaver brush to clean below the gum line and at the back of your mouth where bacteria collects,
- Using a medicated mouthwash for a limited period while the gums are still inflamed.
Many people avoid the areas of their mouth where bleeding occurs, but this is counterproductive. Although it may be unpleasant to see blood on your toothbrush, you must continue brushing these areas to remove the bacteria and plaque – otherwise the treatment won’t be effective.
You may also like to consider the following to treat and prevent any further episodes:
Drink green tea for polyphenols, which can inhibit the growth of bacteria in the mouth, and for antioxidants that can reduce the inflammation,
Rinse occasionally with a saline solution (salt water) to reduce inflammation and to eliminate bacteria,
Brush your gums with bicarbonate of soda mixed with a little water to neutralise acidity in the mouth (which is a component in the creation of plaque).
Give up smoking. Easier said than done but smokers are more at risk of gum disease, and it is more likely to become serious. Smoking causes a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream, which results in less sensitivity and less chance of bleeding. Therefore gum disease can go undetected for longer. Lack of oxygen also means that infected gums don’t heal effectively, and therefore periodontal disease is more commonplace.
What If I Need Further Treatment?
Catching gum disease early and treating it with good oral care, is the goal for patients and dentists. But if gingivitis becomes long term a more aggressive approach may be needed. The next step would be for your dentist to arrange for cleaning treatment to remove persistent plaque, such as a scale and polish.
If gingivitis progresses to periodontal gum disease then your dentist may recommend root planing (debridement) – a deep clean under the gums to remove the bacteria at roots of your teeth. This may be done with a local anesthetic.
Antibiotics may also be prescribed for severe infections, and in the most serious cases periodontal surgery may be necessary. This could involve the removal of affected teeth if the gum can no longer hold the teeth in place, or if bone in the jaw has been damaged by periodontitis.
Without a doubt prevention is better than the cure, which is why I think it’s so important to raise awareness of gum disease so people know what to look out for.
If you are worried that a family member or friend may be at risk of gum disease, please share this article with them.