Here’s a common misconception that many have – if I’m cavity-free, I won’t have gum disease.
However, contrary to popular belief, there’s no direct link between both dental issues. In fact, gum disease might be more common than you think. The Singapore Burden of Disease Study 2010 estimates that 51% of Singapore citizens spend 25 to 44 years of their entire lives with gum disease and 39% of Singapore citizens spend 45 to 65 years of their lives with gum disease.
Over 20 years is a long time to live with gum disease - surely most people would have the common sense to go for gum infection therapy at one point. Except maybe they aren’t even aware they have the condition.
What causes gum disease?
Gum disease, also known as gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums, usually caused by a bacterial infection. This can be a result of bits of food and plaque being trapped between the teeth and gum. If plaque is not removed, it can cause your gums (gingivae) to pull away from your teeth, forming pockets where more bacteria can collect1.
While typically this can be attributed to poor oral hygiene, another less-known factor2 that can cause gum disease is impacted wisdom teeth. When there is insufficient space in the mouth to develop, wisdom teeth may become impacted, and this may lead to the wisdom tooth growing towards the other teeth at irregular angles. When this happens, it is more difficult to clean and brush the teeth and food gets trapped more easily, increasing the risk of gum disease.
How do I tell if I have a gum infection?
If you suspect that you might have a gum infection, these are some symptoms to look out3 for:
- bright red or purple gums
- tender gums that may be painful to the touch
- bleeding from the gums when brushing or flossing
- halitosis, or bad breath
- inflammation, or swollen gums
- receding gums
- soft gums
If you do notice these signs, it’s best to consult a dentist as it is crucial to treat the gum disease in the earliest stage possible. If left untreated, you run the risk of developing a more severe form of gum disease called periodontitis, which can lead to the loss of teeth, bone loss and a lower gum line.
Why being cavity-free doesn’t indicate you’re risk-free from gum disease
Even if you’re cavity-free, it doesn’t mean you’re not at risk of gum disease. This is because different bacteria are usually responsible for cavities and gum disease.
In other words, the bacteria that cause cavities don’t cause gum disease and vice versa. As such, it’s possible to have gum disease even if you don’t have cavities.
Good oral hygiene habits to prevent gum disease
Here are some tips to keep gum disease at bay:
- brush your teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste
- floss your teeth every day
- visit the dentist regularly so that your dentist can look out for warning signs
How is gum infection treated at the dentist?
During a dental exam, your gums will be probed with a small ruler. This probing is a way to check for inflammation. It also measures any pockets around your teeth. A normal depth is 1 to 3 millimetres. Your dentist may also order X-rays to check for bone loss.
Talk to your dentist about risk factors for gum disease as well as your symptoms. If you are diagnosed with gum disease, you will be referred to a periodontist.
There are several techniques that can be used to deep clean4 your teeth without surgery. They all remove plaque and tartar to prevent gum irritation.
The first kind of treatment is scaling, which removes tartar from above and below the gum line.
Root planing smooths rough spots and removes plaque and tartar from the root surface.
Additionally, lasers may remove tartar with less pain and bleeding than scaling and root planing.
In some cases, your dentist will prescribe antibiotics to help with persistent gum infections that haven’t responded to cleanings. The antibiotic might be in the form of a mouthwash, gel, or an oral tablet or capsule.
In serious cases, surgery may be carried out.
Early detection is key to controlling and treating gum disease before it becomes worse. If you suspect that you might have gum disease, it’s best to go see a dentist.
- American Dental Association (ADA) Division of Science. (2011). What is gum disease? American Dental Association (ADA) Division of Science, 142(11), 111. https://jada.ada.org/article/S0002-8177(14)61881-X/fulltext#relatedArticles
- Healthline Editorial Team. (2019, October 31). Gum Disease: Causes, Risk Factors and Symptoms. Healthline. Retrieved November 26, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/gingivitis#treatment
- Impacted wisdom teeth - Symptoms and causes. (2018, March 10). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved November 26, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/wisdom-teeth/symptoms-causes/syc-20373808
- Newman, T. (2018, January 5). Gingivitis: Causes, symptoms, and treatment. Medical News Today. Retrieved November 26, 2021, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/241721#signs-and-symptoms