Gum infections, gingivitis and periodontal disease are in fact different stages of the same degenerative process of oral inflammation and infection. it affects the gum and surrounding structures, including the jaw bone.
This oral degenerative process is caused by the accumulation of plaque around and in-between the teeth. Plaque contains a combination of food residue and bacteria. In this film, the bacteria feed on the food resulting in bacterial fermentation. As this process occurs, toxins and acids are produced as by-products.
These acids and toxins can affect the teeth, leading to demineralisation and tooth decay. However, the toxins can also affect the surrounding gum and bone. As these toxins hit the gum, the gum tries to fight the toxins by producing an inflammatory response. During this normal immune response, cells called Mast cells are produced and act by eating any foreign bodies that are causing the attack.
The only problem is – Mast cells are unable to differentiate between good and bad cells. This can result in the gum effectively eating itself away. This is leads to bleeding and recession of the gums, and is commonly known as Gingivitis.
As this process progresses, it begins to affect the surrounding bone. When this happens, the process is known as periodontitis, or jaw bone disease, and can lead to the loss of the surrounding jaw bone. Eventually, this can lead to exposure of tooth root surfaces, greater sensitivity and loose teeth if the disease is has progressed significantly.
Should enough bacteria get caught in and around the gum, it is possible for an infection to develop. This may lead to localised pain and swelling in the gum caused by what is commonly termed an abscess. Furthermore, the plaque that causes this problem can harden through a mineralisation process caused by the saliva in the mouth. When this occurs, the plaque turns into calculus/tartar/scale. Calculus leads to an increased build up of surrounding plaque.
Signs of periodontal disease are:
- Red, swollen, tender painful or bleeding gums
- Receding gum lines
- Persistent bad breath
- A bad taste in the mouth
- Loose dentures
- Loose teeth
- The presence of abscesses in between and around the teeth
Most periodontal issues can be linked to poor diet, inadequate oral hygiene habits and medication. To identify the cause of periodontal disease, it is important to have a full dental examination, including a gum assessment, possible x-rays and patient/dentist observations of the listed signs.
Depending on the progression of the disease, periodontal treatment is usually carried out as a once off, or a series of, debridement(s) to the teeth and root surfaces. Fortunately the gums, with appropriate Active Maintenance, should eventually heal and take on a normal appearance and feel. Unfortunately, any bone and gum already lost to periodontal disease cannot be replaced. Hence it is very important to diagnose early signs of gingivitis and stop the process early through regular dental checkups.