Gum disease is the single most common cause of tooth loss in the western world today. Also known as periodontal disease, it will affect approximately 90 per cent of the population at some time. It’s a disease that destroys the supporting structures of the teeth, without which the teeth become loose and are eventually lost.

Stages of gum disease

During its early stages, gum disease is known as gingivitis. This literally translates as inflammation of the gums. With treatment, it is a reversible condition and no long term damage is sustained.

If left to progress, untreated gingivitis may lead to a more destructive and severe form of the disease, which is known as periodontitis. This involves the destruction of bone and soft tissues that hold the teeth in place. Pockets develop between the teeth and gums making good oral hygiene very difficult to maintain.

What is the cause of gum disease?

All gum disease is primarily caused by plaque bacteria. After 48 hours of growth, these bacteria start to release toxins which irritate the gums and initiate inflammation. This is the beginning of the process that leads to gum disease.

How do I know if I have gum disease?

There are some signs to look for:

  • Redness or tenderness of the gums;
  • Bleeding gums with brushing or flossing;
  • Persistent bad breath or bad taste in the mouth; or
  • Loose teeth or teeth that appear to have moved

Treatments of gum disease

Treatment involves professional cleaning of the teeth and the removal of harmful bacteria that cause the disease. This may involve a series of appointments with a dental hygienist or a one off visit, depending on the severity of the condition. Oral Hygiene instruction features heavily in the treatment of gum disease. The daily removal of plaque is essential if treatment is to be a success and in the prevention of future episodes.

What is dental decay?

Dental decay or dental caries are very common oral diseases. Firstly, the disease breaks down the hard outer surface of the tooth, which is called enamel. The enamel is then undermined and a cavity forms. The tooth becomes weak and breaks and the nerve may become damaged.

What causes dental decay?

When certain bacteria that live in the mouth become exposed to sugars, they produce an acid. It is this acid which starts the breakdown of the tooth structure.

How can we prevent dental decay?

There are six important factors in preventing gum disease:

  1. Sensible diet with reduced intake of sugar, particularly between meals;
  2. Good saliva flow;
  3. Good oral hygiene routine;
  4. Regular and sufficient exposure to fluoride (found in both toothpaste and our water supply);
  5. Regular six monthly checks with your Dentist and Dental Hygienist; and
  6. Professional Fluoride application and Fissure Sealants (see information menu).

Why is saliva important?

Saliva is your body’s natural defence. It is full of minerals that neutralise the effects of the bacterial acid. Therefore, a reduced flow of saliva can increase your risk of dental decay.

There are a number of causes for reduced saliva including medications, excessive caffeine, dehydration and certain diseases like Sjogren’s syndrome.


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