What you need to know about gum (periodontal) disease

What Is Periodontal Disease?

Periodontal (gum) disease is a chronic, bacteria-induced, inflammatory disease that attacks the gums and the bone supporting the teeth. This inflammation is the body’s response to fight the bacteria and toxins that live on your gums and teeth. However, when the inflammation persists for too long and becomes too strong due to untreated periodontal disease, it starts to destroy the gums and supporting bone, causing the teeth to become loose and fall out eventually. It is usually a silent disease that does not produce obvious signs or pain until it has progressed to an advanced stage.

Some signs and symptoms of periodontal disease include:

  • Reddish, swollen and/or tender gums
  • Gums that bleed while brushing, flossing or when eating certain foods
  • Gums that are receding or pulling away from the teeth, causing the teeth to look longer than before
  • Pus discharging from gums that has pulled away from the teeth
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Bad breath
  • Loose / separating / drifting teeth
  • Sores in your mouth
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  • A change in the fit of partial dentures

Consequences To One’s Health and Well-being

The subsequent tooth or teeth loss from periodontal disease brings about several negative consequences. Firstly, missing teeth will affect the appearance of your face. Not only will your smile be affected by the gaps from missing teeth, the skin around your mouth will also start to sag if you are missing too many teeth, making you look older than you are. Secondly, missing teeth will make it more difficult to chew your food properly and may even affect the way you speak. Lastly, loss of teeth may result in emotional and social consequences; many people feel less confident about their smile or meeting people when they have missing teeth, sometimes even one’s self-esteem can be affected.

In addition, the inflammation that happens in the gums doesn’t just stay in the mouth; the same chronic inflammation can also wreak havoc elsewhere in the body. This is because harmful bacteria in the mouth can either enter the blood stream directly, or send inflammatory mediators into the blood stream to other organs in the body. Research has indicated that periodontal disease has been associated with other systemic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and adverse pregnancy outcomes. In fact, periodontal disease is often considered one of the major complications of diabetes. Several research studies have also suggested that pregnant women who have periodontal disease may have a higher chance of delivering prematurely or have a low-birth-weight baby, compared to mothers with healthy gums.

What You Should Do and Who You Should See

If you have periodontal disease, regular examinations and maintenance are very important to keep track of the present status of your disease and any disease progression over time. Your periodontist will work with you to create a maintenance schedule depending on how advanced your periodontal disease is at that time. A periodontist is a dentist who specializes in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of periodontal disease, and in the placement of dental implants. Periodontists receive extensive training in these areas, including 3 additional years of education beyond dental school. Periodontists often treat more problematic periodontal cases, such as those with severe gum disease or a complex medical history. Periodontists offer a wide range of treatments, including non-surgical therapy such as scaling and root planing (in which the infected surface of the root is cleaned), and a range of surgical procedures for severe gum problems including cosmetic procedures. Furthermore, periodontists are also specially trained in the placement and repair of dental implants.

Based on many variable factors such as your overall general health, the severity of bone loss, and risk factors such as smoking, diabetes and genetics, your periodontist will constantly tailor your care so your periodontal disease does not deteriorate further. Your periodontist may recommend exams every 6 months for mild periodontal disease, or every 3-4 months for more advanced stages. If you are currently missing any of your teeth, you may consider replacing them with dental implants, which can look and feel like natural teeth. Talk to your periodontist, who will be able to provide you with more information on dental implants.

Periodontal disease is preventable. The best way to prevent periodontal disease is to take good care of your teeth and gums at home, coupled with regular visits to the dentist or periodontist. This includes brushing at least twice a day, and flossing at least once a day, and seeing your dentist or periodontist for regular exams twice a year. As the old adage goes, ‘prevention is better than cure’. If you notice any of the signs and symptoms of periodontal disease, be sure to contact your dentist or periodontist right away!

Prepared by:
Dr. Leong Jack Min Daylene
Dentistry (Periodontics)
Specialist Dental Group

Disclaimer: The views and opinions in the article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre (MEMC). The writer is fully responsible for the accuracy, completeness and usefulness of the information provided in the article. MEMC will not be liable for any errors, omissions or copyright issues with regard to the contents of the article.