Warning signs of periodontal (gum) disease

Periodontal disease (or periodontitis) is an inflammatory condition of the gum tissue surrounding your teeth.

The signs of periodontal disease are often unnoticed until it is at an advanced stage. This degenerative oral condition progresses through a number of stages over many years, and often goes unnoticed. While the early stages of periodontal disease are reversible, later stages can cause irreversible damage to your teeth and gums.

Since periodontal disease is a progressive degeneration of your gums, its signs may not be recognised by a person until the ages of 40 or 50. About a third of this age group have moderate or severe periodontal disease in Australia. By the time Australians hit 65, over 50% experience the condition.

What are the signs of periodontal disease?

  • Your gums bleed, and are changing in appearance

    If your gums are inflamed from a bacterial infection, they can bleed, swell, redden and feel tender. While minor bleeding from brushing that occurs along the gum line may be a result of plaque disruption – a good thing – more frequent bleeding from other stimuli is a sign of gum inflammation.

    Furthermore, gum bleeding isn’t as easily remedied as a cut on your arm which you can put a band-aid on. That’s because your oral cavity is home to billions of bacteria that can gain access to your bloodstream, and cause further health complications.

  • You are getting “long in the tooth”

    Forget the myth that this body change is part of aging. If your teeth look very long, they’re not growing any longer – on the contrary, your gums may be receding. In severe gum disease, periodontal pockets containing bacteria deepen, causing the gum tissue to separate and expose your tooth roots. Any changes to the position of the “collar” of gum tissue around your teeth should be brought to the attention of your dentist because it may be indicative of periodontal disease, and other general health issues such as osteoporosis.

  • Your teeth are getting more sensitive

    Periodontal-related tooth sensitivity mainly occurs in teeth affected by inflamed and recessed gums. When the roots of these teeth become exposed, they are no longer protected by gum tissue. And since tooth roots aren’t covered by tooth enamel, they can be very sensitive to hot or cold foods and drinks. On the other hand, if your teeth are sensitive above the gum line, worn out enamel or tooth decay may be the cause.

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  • Some of your teeth feel loose

    This sign may be a real concern. When the connective tissue that connects your teeth to your gums are destroyed (by bacterial infection and inflammation), your teeth may become unstable and start to loosen. Left untreated, affected teeth may eventually separate from the gums completely and shift out of their sockets. If the very tip of the tooth root loses its connection to the bony walls of socket, then it cannot be saved and the only remaining dental treatment option is an extraction and dental implant.

  • Other symptoms of periodontal disease include: pus between your teeth; mouth sores; bad breath; abscesses; and changes in the way your bite fits together.

    Taking a proactive role in monitoring your oral health for the earliest signs of gum disease, and visiting your dentist hygienist for a check-up, clean and treatment are the best ways to stop the disease in its tracks, and prevent any further oral health complications.