Everything you need to know about gum disease

November 13, 2015

The bad news: at some point in your life, you'll probably have the red, swollen and even bleeding gums that signify gum disease. The good news: nearly all early cases can be reversed and then kept at bay with dental visits and proper oral hygiene.

Everything you need to know about gum disease

A brief introduction to gum disease

Nine out of 10 Canadians will develop gum disease, also called gingivitis, at some point in their lives.

  • Unlike many infections, gum disease doesn't hurt at first, and it may be years before you even know you have it. But over time, the bacteria causing the infection can seriously damage gum tissue and weaken the bones that hold your teeth in place.
  • Bacteria that live in the mouth normally produce a thin, sticky film called plaque. In small amounts, plaque is helpful because it provides a protective barrier against further bacterial incursions. But when too much plaque accumulates, it clings to the teeth and gets beneath the gum line. If it’s not removed promptly, it gradually hardens into a rock-hard layer called tartar.
  • Tartar is impossible to remove with regular brushing. It irritates the gums and causes redness, tenderness or bleeding — the first signs of gingivitis.
  • Most gingivitis occurs when people don't brush or floss their teeth often enough. Other risk factors are also involved. Up to 30 percent of North Americans, for example, have a genetic susceptibility for developing gum disease.
  • It’s more common in women because increases in the hormone progesterone in the days prior to menstruation can increase inflammation and reduce the body’s ability to repair gum damage.
  • Gum disease can also be caused, or worsened, by smoking, uncontrolled diabetes or the use of medications that reduce the flow of cleansing saliva.
  • You can almost always reverse mild gum disease by removing plaque before it turns into tartar — but you have to catch it early. If you don't, gingivitis can progress to a more serious condition called periodontitis, which destroys the bone and other tissues that hold the teeth in place.

First steps to healthy gums

  • Floss and brush regularly to control gum redness, swelling or tenderness.
  • Get your teeth cleaned twice a year — more often for persistent gingivitis.
  • Have deep cleaning done, if needed, to remove tartar and damaged tissue.
  • Undergo surgery if your disease is advanced, to reduce the size of pockets under the gums.

Taking control of gum disease

  • Hold your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle. This allows the bristles to thoroughly clean the groove between the gums and teeth.
  • Don't brush with plain baking soda. It doesn't clean as well as toothpaste, and the abrasive particles can wear away tooth enamel.
  • Rinse your mouth with water. When you can't brush after meals, swish some water around your mouth. It removes food particles and reduces bacteria by 30 percent.

Finding support

  • For the latest information about the prevention and treatment of gum disease, or to find a dentist in your area, contact the Canadian Dental Association (1-800-267-6354 or www.cda-adc.ca).
  • For in-depth information on periodontal disease and oral health, or to locate a periodontist in your area, log on to the Canadian Academy of Periodontology’s website at www.cap-acp.ca.

Overall, the best way to control gum disease is to keep up with regular brushing and flossing. Keep this guide in mind and take care of your gums to avoid major problems down the road.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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