Gum disease What is Gum Disease?
Gum disease is the inflammation and infection of the tissues supporting the teeth caused by bad bacteria within dental plaque and tartar that forms on the surfaces of the teeth. In order to prevent and treat gum disease, you need to make sure that you remove all these bacterial deposits on a daily basis. This is done by effective daily flossing and brushing.
There are two main forms of gum disease called gingivitis and periodontal disease. Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums and as a result they become red, swollen, and bleed on brushing. Long standing gingivitis and inflammation can turn into periodontal disease, where the bone anchoring the teeth in the jaw is lost and the teeth become loose. If this is not treated, the teeth may eventually fall out.
Am I likely to suffer from Gum Disease?
Most people suffer from some form of gum disease and it is the major cause of tooth loss in adults. Fortunately the majority will only suffer from mild forms of gingivitis. However, certain patients suffer from more advanced disease and they can have immune systems that overreact to the bad bacteria in their mouths and break down the bone and tissue that surround the tooth. This destruction is not predictable and can occur sporadically. Smoking, a stressful lifestyle, poorly controlled diabetes and ineffective cleaning of the teeth are some of the main factors that are associated with advanced disease.
How do I prevent Gum Disease?
Gum disease is not curable but it is preventable and controllable. As we cannot usually feel or notice the onset of gum disease, both adults and children should be checked for gum disease as part of their routine dental check up with one of our dentists. In order to prevent gum disease and control existing disease you should carry out daily brushing and flossing, as well as see the hygienist on a regular basis. Remember, healthy gums do not bleed.
How does tooth decay happen?
Tooth decay is very common, and affects people of all ages. Tooth decay can occur if plaque is left on teeth. Millions of tiny bacteria live in the plaque and they make acids which soften the tooth's surface. The acids actually dissolve away the minerals in the tooth's outer surface (or enamel).
These bacteria need to feed on the sugars in the food and drink that we consume in order to make the acid. Once all the sugar has been used up, the acid gradually disappears and the tooth has a chance to repair itself. The minerals in saliva help this to happen, and so does the fluoride in toothpaste.
If plaque is not removed regularly, or if sugar is eaten too often, then plaque bacteria can keep producing more and more acid, and the tooth doesn't get a chance to repair itself properly. Eventually a small hole (or cavity) appears.
What can happen next?
As more acids are produced, the hole gets bigger, and goes deeper towards the living part of the tooth (called the pulp). This makes the tooth more sensitive, especially to hot and cold things. Eventually, when the hole gets large enough, the pulp becomes damaged and can die. Bacteria from the mouth can then infect the dead pulp and cause an abscess and toothache.
Did you know?
Tooth-brushing with a fluoride toothpaste helps to remove plaque, and prevent decay from happening. Also, cutting down on sugary foods and drinks helps protect teeth, especially if you only have them at mealtimes. Dentists can repair holes or cavities in teeth with fillings, and help prevent them getting too big and painful.
Tooth erosion is caused by acidic foods and drinks 'dissolving' away the surface of the tooth. It is becoming increasingly more common, especially due to greater consumption of fizzy drinks - including 'diet' brands.
Acids in the mouth can dissolve away tooth surfaces. Given the chance, teeth will repair themselves, using minerals from saliva. But if acid is in the mouth too often, teeth cannot repair themselves and the hard tooth surface (the enamel) becomes thinner - this is called 'erosion'. The teeth can then become extra sensitive to hot and cold food and drink. Eroded teeth can also be more likely to suffer decay.
The main cause of erosion is too frequent consumption of certain kinds of food and drink. All fizzy drinks (including 'diet' brands and fizzy mineral water), all 'sports' drinks, all squashes and all fruit juices are acidic to varying degrees. Pickles and citrus fruits are examples of acidic types of food. People with some illnesses (such as eating disorders) may suffer from erosion because of frequent vomiting of stomach acids which erode teeth. For this reason, dentists may ask about eating disorders if they see teeth that are very badly eroded.
Here are some key tips to prevent erosion
- Try and avoid consuming acidic food and / or drink too often during the day. Try to have them only at mealtimes.
- Drink acidic drinks quickly, ideally through a straw and don't sip them or swish them round your mouth.
- Between meals you should only have 'safe' drinks, which are not sugary or acidic. Milk and water are 'safe' drinks. So are tea and coffee if you do not add sugar to them (you can use non-sugar sweeteners).
- Acids temporarily soften the tooth surface so you should not brush your teeth immediately after eating or drinking something acidic.
- Your dentist can identify erosion, pinpoint the causes and advise you how to prevent further damage.