This September, National Oral Health Month, dental experts share four things you should know about gum disease, the leading cause of tooth loss and various health complications, including how to maintain good oral health and keep your gums ‘in the pink’.
1) Gum disease can lead to much bigger issues.
According to WHO and the South African Dental Association (SADA), gum disease is the second biggest oral health problem in the country. Unfortunately, if not treated, gum disease has serious consequences. What starts as mild, reversible gingivitis can become periodontitis and permanently damage the gums. It is also linked to several chronic health conditions.
“Untreated gum disease causes bone and tooth loss. It has also been linked to systemic diseases including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and poor pregnancy outcomes,” said Dr Corlene Schnetler of Cape Periodontal Specialists.
2) You probably won’t know you have gum disease.
Because gum disease is usually painless, especially in the early stages, most people don’t realise they have it. “Unless you’re a dental professional it’s not that easy to tell the difference between healthy pink gums and red, inflamed gums,” warns Ivohealth’s oral hygiene advisor, Dirna Grobbelaar.
“One of the most noticeable signs are bleeding gums – if you see red when brushing or cleaning between the teeth, it is most likely a sign of gum disease.”
3) Gum disease can be treated at home if caught early.
If you notice a little bleeding when you brush or floss, you can try and resolve the problem at home by following a meticulous oral hygiene routine for a week.
“Take extra special care of your mouth. Brush correctly twice a day with a soft-bristled brush, ideally using an antibacterial toothpaste like GUM Paroex Intensive Action. Clean between the teeth daily, using whatever interdental tool you find easiest – floss, an interdental brush with antibacterial bristles or even Soft-Picks,” advises Grobbelaar. “After eating and before bed, rinse with salt water or an antibacterial mouth rinse like GUM Paroex which contains chlorhexidine and CPC, the gold standard in plaque control.”
If your gums continue to bleed after 7 days, it’s time to see your dentist or oral hygienist. “If plaque isn’t completely removed with regular brushing and flossing, it hardens into tartar. Tartar can’t be removed with regular oral care and will continue to irritate the gums unless it is removed professionally.”
If caught in the early stages, a professional scale and polish may be enough to sort out your bleeding gums. Your dentist will advise if further treatment is required and will refer you to a periodontist if necessary.
4) Gum disease is preventable.
It’s worth remembering that, in most cases, gum disease can be avoided. “Prevention is always better than cure – from a medical and cost perspective,” says Dr Schnetler. “If you follow a consistent oral hygiene routine, with the correct tools and techniques, gum disease can usually be prevented.”
Eating a healthy diet and not smoking, also play an important role in keeping the gums healthy.