What is gum disease?
Gum disease, known medically as gingivitis or periodontal disease, is when your gums are red, bleeding and/or swollen. It may also affect supporting tissues of the teeth including the bone. It is caused by food and bacteria building up on and around your teeth. When this mix of food and bacteria is soft, its called plaque. After being left there a few days it goes hard and its then called calculus (or sometimes tartar).
Why should I care about gingivitis?
Gum disease can affect the way you look, smell and taste, make it harder to eat, and affect your overall health.
Even in mild gum disease, the appearance of red swollen bleeding gums may affect the confidence of your smile. Bad breath or a bad taste may affect your confidence in talking to friends and kissing your partner.
If left untreated, over time, gingivitis can progress to periodontal disease and wear away the bone supports of your teeth so they get loose and wobbly. In severe cases this can lead to pain, infection, loss of teeth and the need for dentures (false teeth).
Some medical conditions (such as diabetes and heart disease) may get worse with uncontrolled gum disease and improve with treatment of gum disease. This relationship works two ways. Gum disease may get worse with uncontrolled medical conditions and may improve with treatment of medical conditions.
What can I do to prevent gum disease?
The most effective way to prevent gingivitis and periodontal disease is to physically remove plaque bacteria with toothbrush bristles and floss.
The minimal level of oral hygiene required to prevent gum disease is generally accepted as brushing effectively twice each day, and effectively flossing once each day.
Effective brushing is:
- Brushing for at least two minutes
- Angling your toothbrush towards the gum
- Covering the outside, inside and biting-surface of each tooth
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Effective flossing is:
- Not sawing back and forth!
- Wiggle the floss between the tight contact point
- Pull to the side to wrap the floss around one of the teeth
- Take the floss under the gum line
- Swipe up the side of the tooth
- Repeat for the other tooth in the same gap
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What should I do to treat gum disease?
Treating gingivitis and periodontal disease is really simple! Most of the treatment you can do yourself at home. Follow the steps for effective brushing and flossing above, also start using interdental brushes:
- Start with the smallest interdental brush
- Gently guide the brush between your teeth all the way through
- Repeat with a larger brush until the brush does not fit that gap
- Use the largest brush that fits each gap
- Clean between every tooth, every day, at least once each day
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Don’t be put off by bleeding when you brush, floss or use interdental brushes – it doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong! Bleeding is a sign of gum disease and is caused by the bacteria making little ulcers under your gums.
The areas that bleed need more cleaning not less! The bleeding should reduce quickly after a few days of excellent oral hygiene, and usually stop within a few weeks.
A mouthwash may of some help, especially in the first few weeks of treatment.
A mouthwash is not however a magic cure and is not essential.
When to see a dentist or dental hygienist
Establishing an excellent oral hygiene routine at home is adequate to treat milder gingivitis.
Severe gum disease, however will also require assessment, monitoring and treatment with a dentist and/or dental hygienist or therapist.
If the gum disease is new and not something you have already talked about with your dentist then you should book a check up.
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