Gum disease

What is gum disease (periodontal disease)?

Gum disease is a common condition affecting the tissues around your teeth. It causes swelling, redness of the gums, and sometimes pain, Avoiding treatment can lead to gum recession and even tooth loss.

It’s a condition that affects individuals worldwide – it’s predicted that 19% of the global adult population suffers from severe periodontal disease1. Gum disease, however, can be prevented by maintaining a good oral hygiene routine, including regular brushing, check-ups with your dentist and hygienist appointments.

Let’s take a look at the main types of gum disease, treatments for gum disease and symptoms to look out for.

What are the gum disease symptoms?

The symptoms of gum disease include:

  • Bleeding gums when you brush your teeth, floss or eat hard foods like apples
  • Swollen, sore or inflamed gums
  • Bad breath and a bad taste in your mouth
  • Receding gums
  • Loose teeth - they may even fall out
  • What are the main types of gum disease?

    There are three main types of gum disease: gingivitis, periodontitis and acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG).

    Gingivitis is an inflammation of the tissues that surround your teeth. If left untreated, gingivitis can lead to a more advanced condition called periodontitis, which can affect the bones and ligaments that support your teeth. ANUG is a serious type of gum disease that develops suddenly, and will require urgent attention.

    Gum disease isn’t always painful, so you may not realise you have it. That’s why it's important to visit your dentist for regular check-ups.


    Gingivitis is caused by a buildup of plaque: a soft, sticky substance comprised of bacteria. If you don’t clean the plaque off your teeth by brushing and flossing regularly, it can cause your gums to become inflamed. Your gums may bleed when you brush them, but they aren’t usually painful.

    If you remove the plaque and look after your teeth and gums well, your gingivitis is likely to get better on its own. However, if you don’t remove the plaque properly, you may develop a more serious type of gum disease called periodontitis.

    The symptoms of gingivitis are:

    • Bleeding after cleaning or flossing your teeth, or when eating something hard like an apple
    • Occasional cases of bad breath (halitosis)
    • You might also notice red or swollen gums

    If you have symptoms of gingivitis, you may be able to resolve this at home with brushing and flossing techniques. You can also visit a hygienist for a professional dental clean. This will involve removing any traces of tartar, plaque, or bacterial residue.


    When gingivitis is left untreated, the inflammation may spread to the ligaments and bones that hold your teeth in place. This is a type of gum disease called periodontitis. Your gums may begin to pull away from your teeth, leaving pockets. These pockets trap plaque that you may not be able to reach with a toothbrush.

    Over time, the plaque hardens to become tartar, which may irritate your gums even more by collecting more plaque. The pockets may then become deeper and even more difficult to clean, making the problem worse. Sometimes you may develop an infection in your gums and pus may collect under your gums, causing an abscess.

    Untreated periodontitis can cause your gums to shrink back from your teeth (a process known as recession). This may then expose some of the roots of your teeth, making them sensitive. If you have any bone loss, your teeth may feel loose. If your periodontitis isn’t treated for several years, you may even end up losing some teeth.

    The symptoms of periodontitis include:

    • Very painful ulcers that bleed easily
    • Bad breath (halitosis)
    • A metallic taste in your mouth
    • Difficulty swallowing or talking
    • Having a lot of saliva in your mouth
    • You may also have a high temperature and feel generally unwell

    If you have any of these symptoms, we recommend you contact a dentist.

    Acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG)

    ANUG is a serious type of gum disease that can develop suddenly. It is a bacterial infection that causes swelling, ulcers, bad breath (halitosis) and pain. ANUG must be treated by a dentist as soon as possible, as it will not be solved with regular brushing and flossing alone.

    The symptoms of ANUG include

    • Bad breath (halitosis)
    • Gum recession and sensitive teeth
    • Wobbly teeth
    • A bad taste in your mouth
    • Gum abscesses (pus that collects under your gums)

    If you have any of these symptoms, we recommend you contact a dentist.

    Every year more people lose teeth to gum disease than to tooth decay. While twice-daily brushing, flossing and a good oral hygiene routine will help keep gum disease at bay, it may not be enough to keep your teeth and gums protected.

    Your oral hygienist and dentist will be able to spot signs of gum disease and provide advice on how best to tackle it. Protect your teeth - visit your hygienist regularly.

    How is gum disease treated?

    The type of treatment you will have will depend on how serious your gum disease is. The aim of treatment is to control any existing gum disease and prevent further problems arising.

    You may be able to treat mild gum disease (gingivitis) with a daily brushing and flossing routine. Your dentist or hygienist will arrange regular check-ups with you to monitor the size of any pockets in your gums, as well as how easily your gums bleed, to make sure they get better over time.

    If your dentist thinks you have periodontitis:

    • Your clinician will use a periodontal probe to measure the depth of any gaps between your teeth and gums (pockets). They may check how easily your gums bleed and how much plaque and tartar you have on your teeth. You may also need X-rays to check the state of your teeth and jawbone.
    • Root planning may be required to treat periodontitis or acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG). Root planning removes plaque, tartar, and damaged tooth covering. Your dentist or hygienist may use a local anaesthetic to make the root planning more comfortable. This will ensure you have no sensation in your gums while the procedure is underway.
    • Treatment with antibiotics may be recommended if you have a very serious infection. Antiseptic mouthwash may be recommended by a hygienist to help discourage the growth of bacteria. However, a mouthwash can't remove plaque already built up on your teeth - this must be brushed off or removed by a hygienist.
    • If you have more serious periodontitis and other treatments haven't worked, your dentist may refer you to a periodontist for gum surgery.

    What is a periodontist?

    A periodontist is a healthcare professional who specialises in treating periodontal (gum) disease. We have many specialists throughout the Bupa Dental Care network. Gum surgery may help to remove bacteria and repair your gums and bone. It may also improve how your teeth look and reduce sensitivity.

    For more information on treatments for gum disease, speak to your dentist.

    What causes gum disease?

    Gum disease occurs when plaque builds up around teeth that aren’t cleaned properly. You may find it harder to clean your teeth if you wear braces, have implants or wear dentures.

    Other factors that can make you more likely to get gum disease are smoking, diabetes, pregnancy, taking medication which makes your mouth dry or eating too many sugary foods. Getting older or having a weak immune system can also make you more susceptible to gum disease.

    What are the risk factors for gum disease?

    Gum disease risk factors can include:

    • Age
    • Genetics
    • Smoking
    • Stress
    • Poor oral hygiene
    • Clenching or grinding your teeth
    • Poor nutrition or obesity
    • Certain medications, such as antidepressants and heart medicines

    Preventing gum disease

    You may be able to prevent gum disease by controlling the amount of plaque and tartar that build up on your teeth. To do this you should:

    Brush and floss your teeth properly

    Floss or use interdental brushes, then brush your teeth for two minutes twice a day.

    Your hygienist can show you how to use dental floss and brush your teeth correctly, as well as provide further oral health advice.

    Visit your dentist and hygienist regularly

    Visit a hygienist for regular scale and polish treatments to remove plaque and tartar build-up both on the teeth, and below the gum line.

    Regular check-ups will also allow your dentist to keep an eye on your overall oral health, which means any potential issues can be addressed sooner.

    Stop smoking

    If you smoke, speak to your GP or pharmacist about giving up. Smoking makes you more likely to develop gum disease and can make it harder to treat gum disease.

    Smoking introduces a wide range of harmful chemicals to your teeth and gums. Giving up smoking is a crucial step towards improving not just your oral health, but your overall health and wellbeing.

    To find out more about gum disease, book an appointment today.

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