Your ultimate guide to gum disease

It’s World Oral Health Day on 20th March and we have to admit, aside from ‘brushing twice a day and regular flossing’, we don’t know a hell of a lot about oral health.

And with recent studies suggesting a link between gum disease and a higher rate of strokes – according to research being presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference – it’s about time we became more clued up about gum health.

What is gum disease?

Gum disease, sometimes called periodontal disease or periodontitis, is an infection caused by build up of bacteria and plaque, which can happen if you don’t take care of your teeth. The early stages of gum disease – when your teeth may bleed or you might have bad breath – is referred to as gingivitis.

If left untreated, the disease can lead to periodontitis in your jaw, damaging the bone and the tissue that holds your teeth in place. This can cause your teeth to loosen or fall out.

What are the symptoms?

You may not experience any pain with gum disease, so it’s important to know what signs to look out for. “The first key sign is bleeding gums following brushing, flossing or eating,” says gum specialist Dr Reena Wadia, founder of RW Perio. “Bleeding gums are a natural alarm bell signifying disease – just like you wouldn’t ignore bleeding from any other part of your body, don’t ignore bleeding gums.”

The next is a change in the appearance of your gums; healthy gums are a light pink colour, so take notice of ‘red, swollen or receded gums’, says Dr Wadia. Other symptoms include bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth, gum boils/ abscesses, loose teeth or a change in the position of your teeth.

What should I do if I think I might have it?

First of all, don’t panic. Gum disease is a very common condition, according to the NHS, and most adults in the UK have it to some degree, with most people experiencing it at least once. If you notice any of the above symptoms, book in to see your dentist as soon as you can. They will carry out an examination to check your gum health and in some cases, an X-ray may be required. Even if you haven’t noticed any symptoms, it’s highly recommended to have regular dental check-ups.

How can it be prevented?

Brushing your teeth properly and looking after your oral health will keep gum disease at bay and, in most cases, is enough to treat gum disease, too. Dr Wadia advises brushing twice a day, ideally with an electric toothbrush, and holding your toothbrush along the gum line, not just on your teeth. “Cleaning between your teeth with interdental brushes or floss is also just as important,” she adds.

Other preventative measures include living a healthy lifestyle – getting plenty of vitamins, avoiding stress and having regular gum screenings while pregnant, as hormonal changes during pregnancy can increase your risk of gum disease. “Smoking is also a big risk factor for gum disease,” adds Dr Wadia. “The more you smoke, the more at risk you will be, and it also makes gum disease more difficult to treat.”

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