Stages and Symptoms of Gum Disease
Gum disease is one of the most prevalent dental problems, affecting up to 80% of us during our lifetime. This inflammatory disease creeps upon us, developing slowly over a number of years. Although it does cause symptoms, the earliest ones are easily overlooked and ignored, meaning that more often than not, the condition has advanced by the time we seek professional help. Unfortunately, by letting gum disease progress, you are putting your oral health and even the viability of your teeth at risk.
Gum disease progresses in stages, each with more extensive and debilitating symptoms than the last. Here’s what you need to know about the stages and symptoms of gum disease, as well as what gum disease treatments are available.
About gum disease
Gum disease is characterized by inflammation and infection of the gum tissue, which normally occurs because the patient isn’t brushing and flossing their teeth thoroughly enough. When we don’t brush our teeth properly, a sticky, clear film called plaque is allowed to build upon them, close to the gums. Plaque contains millions of bacteria which produce acids that will erode our dental enamel and cause decay. However, in addition to this, the plaque can spread onto the gum tissue where it causes irritation and infection. This prompts the start of gum disease.
Stage One: Gingivitis
The earliest stage of gum disease is known as gingivitis. Unsurprisingly, plaque will have only just started to irritate the gum tissue and the symptoms are mild and easily overlooked. These include:
- Bleeding when you brush or floss your teeth
- Teeth that bleed when you eat something hard, sticky or chewy
- Gums that appear inflamed, red and swollen
Once present on the gums, the plaque will also try and get into the tiny gaps that form between the teeth and gums. These tiny spaces, called periodontal pockets, are usually only a millimeter or two in-depth. When a patient has gingivitis, they can reach up to 4mm deep. Your dentist will be able to measure the depth of your periodontal pockets using a special tool.
Fortunately, gum disease is reversible at the earliest stage. Properly brushing at home using a fluoride toothpaste twice each day, plus daily flossing, as well as professional, cleans by your hygienist at least twice each year can help to reverse the effects of the condition and restore the health of your gums.
Stage Two: Periodontal Disease
At this point, gum disease is often referred to as periodontal disease. The plaque will have spread below the gum line and be causing more significant symptoms which will include:
- Significant bleeding when you brush your teeth
- Bad breath
- Tender, swollen gums that look very red
- Pus and other signs of infection
- Gums that are receding and pulling away from the teeth
- Sensitivity to hot/cold food and drinks
- Teeth may appear slightly loose
At this stage, your periodontal pocket measurement will be between 6 and 7mm and deeper pockets mean more bacteria can become trapped and worsen the situation. Treatment is still possible if you are diagnosed with periodontal disease at this stage, but this will require more than just improvement in your brushing/flossing. You may need to undergo a procedure called ‘scaling and root planing’ which ensures the removal of bacteria from the roots of the teeth. Further gum disease treatment will involve the periodontal pockets being cleaned of bacteria so that the condition doesn’t progress further.
Stage 3: Periodontitis
The most severe stage of gum disease, also called periodontitis, sees patients experiencing irreparable damage to their oral health. The infection in your gum tissue will have spread throughout your jaw, weakening the bone and causing gum tissue to deteriorate. At this stage, your periodontal pockets will be more than 7mm deep and could be filled with pus and debris. You may notice symptoms that include:
- Severe bad breath that cannot be improved
- Pain when biting and chewing
- Yellow/brown deposits on teeth
- Red, swollen and oozing gums
- Significant bleeding when brushing/flossing your teeth
- Teeth appear loose in their sockets and may even fall out
Unsurprisingly, the level of damage sustained means invasive and extensive dental work may be needed to give you a basic level of oral health and restore the function of your teeth. This could include bone grafting, soft tissue grafting dental implants and more. Your dentist will be able to advise you what treatment you will need based on your individual circumstances.
Gum disease is a severe and problematic dental issue, but with proper care of your teeth at home and support from your dentist, you don’t need to experience it. For more information on gum disease stages, symptoms and treatment, please get in touch with our offices.