Symptoms of Gum Disease
Eight in ten adults in the U.S. suffer from some form of gum disease, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The mildest type of gum disease is gingivitis – inflammation of gum tissue. Without treatment, this can progress to periodontitis, which can result in an infection that causes tooth loss and significant damage to the bone and soft tissue that support your teeth.
Symptoms of gum disease include:
- Bleeding gums.
- Discolored gums.
- Swollen gums.
- Gum recession.
- Bad breath.
- Loose teeth.
- Tooth sensitivity.
- Gaps between your teeth and gums.
Dental professionals often refer to gum disease as a “silent disease”. This is because you may not even notice the early stages of the condition, which can be pain-free. A further problem is that the bacterial plaque that causes gum disease is transparent and can remain invisible to the untrained eye.
Common Signs You May Have Gum Disease
The first symptom of gum disease is typically bleeding gums when you brush your teeth or eat. You may also find that your gums change from being pink and firm to red and soft.
Another symptom of gum disease is if your teeth begin to appear longer than normal. This can happen because of gum recession when soft tissue wears away to reveal more tooth structure.
Infection beneath your gum line can lead to periodontal pockets – spaces between your teeth and gums – which can loosen teeth or even cause them to fall out. This occurs when bacteria activate your immune system, which then attacks the bone and soft tissue around your teeth.
Persistent bad breath (halitosis) can be a result of gum disease when toxins in bacterial plaque produce an unpleasant-smelling gas.
Tooth sensitivity can be another symptom of gum disease, which can erode tooth enamel, leaving the underlying layer of dentin unprotected.
Other symptoms of gum disease are:
- Mouth sores.
- A change in your bite function.
- Pus between gums and teeth.
- A change in the fit of partial dentures.
Symptoms of Ulcerative Gingivitis
A rare form of gum disease – acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG) – can develop suddenly, with symptoms typically more severe than those of regular gingivitis or periodontal disease. Signs of ANUG:
- Aching gums.
- Bleeding gums.
- Painful ulcers.
- Excessive saliva.
- Difficulty in swallowing or talking.
- High temperature.
- Metallic taste in the mouth.
How Gum Disease Develops
Gum disease is the most prevalent cause of tooth loss among adults but you may not realize you have a problem with your gums, particularly during the initial stages of the condition. A basic understanding of what triggers gum disease can help you to stay alert to the symptoms.
The problem begins with inflammation of the gums – gingivitis – that can develop into the more serious issue of full-blown periodontal disease.
Gum disease occurs just below the gum line through a build-up of plaque – a sticky coating of bacteria and acids that can calcify into tartar, which can only be removed by professional cleaning by a dental hygienist or dentist.
Gum disease chiefly affects people after they reach their 30s or 40s. The condition is more common among men.
As well as posing a significant risk to your dental health, infection from gum disease can spread to other areas of your body, including vital organs such as the brain, heart, and lungs. Severe cases of gum disease have been linked to issues including respiratory problems, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Gum Disease Risk Factors
Some people are more at risk from gum disease than others, and the likelihood of showing symptoms of gum disease increases as we get older. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 70 percent of people in the U.S. aged 65 and older have periodontitis.
Other factors that can make you particularly vulnerable to gum disease include:
- Poor diet and/or obesity.
- You have another medical problem, such as diabetes.
- Gum disease tends to run in your family.
- You smoke.
- You suffer from stress.
- Hormonal changes during pregnancy, which can make gums more susceptible to infection.
How You Can Help Keep Your Gums Free from Disease
The chief cause of symptoms of gums disease is poor oral hygiene, which can allow bacteria, plaque, and tartar to accumulate quickly.
You can help to keep your gums free from disease by:
- Brushing your teeth twice a day with an antimicrobial toothpaste containing fluoride.
- Flossing between your teeth daily to get rid of plaque that your toothbrush can’t reach.
- Using an antibacterial mouthwash.
- Eating a balanced diet.
- Scheduling dental exams every six months.
Importance of Dental Check-Ups to Detect Symptoms of Gum Disease
The American Dental Association3 (ADA) says that because there may be no obvious symptoms of gum disease, regular dental exams are essential to determine early signs and enable the most effective treatment.
The AAP4 (American Academy of Periodontology) advises all adults to get an annual comprehensive periodontal evaluation (CPE).
Early diagnosis and treatment of gum disease gives you the best chance of a successful outcome without invasive surgical procedures.
Only a dentist can definitively diagnose the symptoms, development, and progression of gum disease. Besides examining your gums for signs of bleeding or softness, your dentist will evaluate:
- Depth of periodontal pockets.
- Movement, alignment, and sensitivity of your teeth.
- Condition of your jaw bone.
Periodontal Assessment and Treatment of Gum Disease
If your dental hygienist or general dentist detects symptoms of the early stages of gum disease, they may refer you to a periodontal specialist, but you don’t need a referral to get a periodontal assessment.
Periodontal specialists5 are expert in the diagnosis of gum disease and can treat a wide range of cases – including complex problems – with state-of-the-art dental techniques.
Treatment options offered by periodontists include:
- Scaling and root planing.
- Pocket depth reduction.
- Gum repair and regeneration.
- Gum grafts for receding gums.
A periodontal specialist can also advise you on effective brushing and flossing techniques to help prevent future gum problems and avoid the symptoms of gum disease.