If you’re worried you might have gum disease, there’s good reason for that. Gum disease, known as periodontal disease, has serious consequences for your dental health. It’s a chronic condition that varies in the speed of progression in different people. In the worst case scenario, it results in teeth becoming loose and eventually need to be extracted. We know that bleeding gums is closely connected to how we brush and floss. And most people that we see in the dental practice don’t brush and floss enough. But removing plaque is one part of the story. Gum disease could be a sign of many other problems throughout the body. If you’re suspicious you have gum disease, then these five signs may tell you it’s time to see the dentist.
1. Bleeding gums
Gums should not bleed when you brush and floss. As a general rule, if you aren’t a routine flosser, or cleaning in between your teeth regularly, bacteria buildup below the gums may cause your gums to bleed each time you brush. This can also spread and cause bleeding when you brush your gums. If the problem persists, the bleeding usually worsens.
Gum swelling, red gums, or sore gums may also accompany bleeding. Tooth sensitivity may occur as well and may be due to gum recession from the infected, bleeding gums. It’s common to ask if you should stop flossing when your gums are bleeding. The problem is that if you don’t floss, the plaque that causes your gums to bleed will destroy the fibers that attach your gum tissue to your teeth, which will create pathological pocketing of the gums. We will discuss this further in our next ‘sign.’ In short,
when you see bleeding gums it’s high time to pay a visit to your dentist.
Your dentist will perform an exam that is designed to measure the severity of your bleeding gums. There are some general stages of bleeding gums that you can be aware of:
- Bleeding after or during brushing: This is when you will spot red or dark spots on your brush or floss. Your goal here is to disturb plaque, so it shows you’re doing the right thing.
- Gums begin to bleed more frequently: Instead of bleeding just on brushing, you’re now finding blood when you eat or without any stimulation at all.
- Bleeding happens on its own, not just when brushing: Sometimes, gums will bleed with no stimulus at all. This is a sign that inflammation is progressing to more serious stages.
- Gums begin to darken from light pink to a deeper red: This shows that more immune-regulated cells are located in the vessels. Gingivitis progresses as the immune response worsens. It signals processes that eat away at the gum tissue. Light, red blood is a sign there is oxygen present. Darker gums show lack of oxygen which is related to types of bacteria that thrive in an oxygen-free environment.
2. Gum Recession or Gum ‘Pocketing’
Do your teeth look like they are getting longer? Teeth that appear “long” may be due to fact that the gums that surround them are receding away. Gum recession is a sign that gum disease is progressing.
When this happens, the depth of the collar of gum tissue around your teeth increases. In later stage gum disease, these pockets become too deep. The problem is that it then becomes difficult to remove the food and debris by brushing and flossing. This causes the pockets to become progressively deeper and the gum disease to worsen.
Unfortunately, to most, gum recession is considered to be a normal part of aging. You may have heard the expression “long in the tooth” to describe getting older. This refers to how the gum line tends to recede and expose more of the surface of our teeth. But there really is nothing “normal” about gum recession, and for most of us, it can actually be prevented. So, unless you’re inclined to keep things as they are, and embrace gum recession as the well-paid price of wisdom, we can help.
Gum recession and pockets are not the same:
Gum recession is the loss of gum tissue from around the tooth, exposing the root. Measurements are taken along the outer surface of the tooth to gauge how much gum has recessed or migrated over time. Measurements vary per person in the sense that a 4mm reading might be fine in one person but may not be for another. By taking a measurement and keeping track of its progression, we are able to determine different recommendations for taking care of your teeth and get a specialist involved if needed.
Gum Pockets are the space between the gums and teeth. Dentists measure gum pockets by “probing” or “charting” to determine the general periodontal or gum health. A probe is placed down in between the tooth and the gums to determine where the attachment of gum starts. This is known as the bottom of the pocket. Hygienists and dentists take six measurements for every tooth to evaluate the health or presence of gum disease. By keeping a record of this year after year we hope to maintain a healthy periodontium and prevent periodontal disease and tooth loss. A normal or healthy range is between 1mm and 3mm, anything higher is indicative of infection and gum disease.
Gum recession or pocketing can lead to tooth sensitivity. In these cases, sensitivity can be a sign of gum disease. Chronically inflamed gum tissue is exposing the root surface of the tooth. This exposed root has a softer surface and makes the tooth more susceptible to decay, wear and tear (would eventually appear dented), tooth sensitivity, and potential tooth loss.
Tooth sensitivity occurs when consuming things like cold or hot beverages. If your symptoms are worsening, it’s time to see your dentist to see if they may be related to gum disease.
High Blood Sugar (Diabetes)
If your blood sugar is high, you may have or be at risk of type 2 diabetes. The link between gum disease and type 2 diabetes is two-directional. People with type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of gum disease that progresses faster. That’s why it’s important for your dentist to know whether you have type 2 diabetes or not.
Signs of high blood sugar include:
- Increased thirst
- Mind fog or trouble concentrating
- Blurred or impaired vision
- Frequent urination
- Fatigue or loss of energy (weak, tired feeling)
- If you experience any of these conditions, you should see your general practitioner to test your blood sugar.
However, if you see your dentist and have been diagnosed with gum disease, you should also test your blood sugar. The conditions are closely connected to general inflammation in the body.
Tune in next time to find out about some general measures to control your gum disease.
[Update] Part 2 can now be found here!