In the US, an estimate of over half of adults have periodontal—or gum—disease. In Singapore, studies have found that over 80% of Singaporeans have tartar, the root cause of gingivitis and periodontitis, and a staggering 85% already have some form of gum disease.
Obviously, the gums are a hotbed of activity for bacterial infections, which is one of the most prevalent issues in dental health. Yet proper care for the gums may be taking a backseat to issues about teeth. There does not seem to be as much talk for keeping your gums healthy as there is about teeth.
Understanding gum disease, how it starts, and possible treatments is important for better dental health. You may already be one of the 85% of the population in need of some sort of gum intervention.
What is gum disease?
Gum disease is the inflammation and deterioration of the support structures surrounding the teeth, which includes tissues and bone. Severe gum disease is characterized by tissue and bone loss, which ultimately leads to your teeth becoming mobile and eventually getting dislodged or falling out.
What causes gum disease?
Most forms of gum disease start with improper and poor oral hygiene. Gum disease is primarily caused by plaque which is a byproduct of bacteria that forms a thin sticky layer that coats the teeth.
Without proper oral care instructions and habits, plaque will build up and become hardened bacteria called tartar or calculus, which can only be removed professionally by scheduling a cleaning appointment with a dentist.
Smoking is also a common cause of gum disease. Chewing and smoking tobacco prevents damaged gum tissue from healing, and weakens your immune system, further hurting your chances of fighting bacterial infections. Smokers have been found to be twice as likely to get gum disease as non-smokers. Drinking has also been linked to gum disease, among other diseases.
Some people are more susceptible to gum disease. For instance, pubescent teens are usually more at risk for gum disease because of hormonal changes that cause blood vessels in the gums to be more susceptible to infection and irritation.
People with diabetes are particularly at risk, because thickened blood vessels can slow the flow of nutrients and natural waste-removal in the mouth. The PMC and the American Diabetes Association have reported on the increased susceptibility to periodontitis in people with diabetes. Singapore’s own Ministry of Health (MOH) notes that 400 million adults had diabetes worldwide in 2015, and that the number was expected to hit 640 million in 2040.
The MOH also reports that more than 400,000 Singaporeans have diabetes, and how one in three Singaporeans has a lifetime risk of getting it. If current trends continue, the number of Singaporeans with diabetes could hit one million in 2050. As a result, in 2016, the Ministry of Health (MOH) declared its War on Diabetes to drum up nationwide support for efforts to reduce the burden of diabetes on the population.
Since then, various local authorities had published on how periodontal disease is likely to be more severe in diabetics than non-diabetics, and how it is possible to lose teeth because of unhealthy gums and ultimately, loss in bone support around the teeth.
How do I know if I have gum disease?
Below are some signs to watch out for. If you are experiencing these symptoms, then you may want to consult with your dentist to check the health of your gums.
- Sensitive and aching gums
- Gums that bleed when you touch or brush your teeth
- Pain when you chew
- Teeth that feel loose
- Gums that look like they are receding from your teeth
- Teeth that look like they are growing longer or elongating
- A persistent foul taste or odor from the mouth
- Gap formation between the teeth as a result of weakening support structures
- Hypersensitivity of teeth
Common kinds of gum disease—and methods of treatment
The toxins produced by plaque and tartar damage and can rot affected cells. The buildup of dead cells and tartar produces bad breath. To combat the stench, people with halitosis must remove plaque buildup through proper brushing and flossing, or in more severe cases going to the dentist to remove tartar that is inaccessible by normal brushing. Good oral hygiene can be enough to eliminate bad breath. Make sure to brush the insides of your cheek, as well as your tongue. Flossing is a must for the hard-to-reach nooks and crannies, as regular brushing only cleans around 60% of the tooth.
Halitosis can also be caused by other issues like gastric or indigestion, which may be caused by oral issues causing a decrease in efficiency of eating.
Gingivitis is the inflammation of the gums due to the infection by tartar and plaque, and is a mild disease relative to other types of gum diseases. Gums appear puffy and red, and usually bleed during brushing. Gingivitis can be mitigated by regular brushing with antibacterial toothpaste, mouthwash, and flossing of the teeth, as well as constant visits to the dentist to clear away plaque build up.
This is the advanced stage of gingivitis where bacteria builds up underneath the gum line and triggers an immune response. Gums may appear flabby and your teeth may seem to be more mobile than before, or may even have moved from their original positions. Toxins from the bacteria and the body’s natural bacteria-fighting enzymes erode the bone structures supporting the teeth, which can result in the gums receding and teeth falling away for severe cases of periodontitis.
Treatment can include a special cleaning technique called root planning for less severe cases. Dentists remove tartar buildup on the tooth and around and deep in the gums, to allow new healthy cells to grow. This way, the gums will be able to re-attach to the tooth surfaces and reduce the pockets that have formed between the gums and teeth due to the bacteria.
For the most severe cases, surgery may be required to save teeth, remove dead tissue, and to allow a dentist greater access to deep pockets of bacteria under the gum and around the roots. Bone grafts and tissue-growth proteins may be needed to encourage regeneration of bones and tissue that support teeth. During this time, splints and mouthguards may be used to help stabilize teeth while your gums regrow support structures.
If you think you might have gum disease, your priority should be getting checked immediately. The more you wait, the more damage there will be. Book an appointment with us at Dental Focus today to get an update on the health of your gums. From preventing halitosis to periodontal surgery, our team of dentists and medical professionals are well-trained in all methods of gum disease treatment.
Dental Focus – Dental Clinic in Singapore
10 Kaki Bukit Place, #04-00
Tel: 6747 0573