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Gum disease

Gum disease is a common condition that affects the tissues around your teeth. It causes swelling and redness of your gums, and sometimes pain. Up to 90% of adults in the UK have some gum disease1, even if it’s only a small amount.

Gum disease can be prevented by maintaining a good oral hygiene routine, including regular brushing, check-ups with your dentist, and hygienist appointments.

Find out more about the main types of gum disease, treatments for gum disease and its symptoms.

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 gingivitis isn’t treated, it can lead to another type of gum disease called periodontitis, which can affect the bones and ligaments that support your teeth. ANUG is a serious type of gum disease that develops suddenly.

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. Find a Bupa dentist near you.

Gingivitis

Gingivitis is caused by a buildup of plaque, a soft, sticky substance caused by 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 aren’t usually painful.

If you remove the plaque and look after your teeth and gums well, your gingivitis is likely to get better. But if you don’t get the plaque off 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, as well as occasional cases of bad breath (halitosis). You might also notice red or swollen gums.

Image showing teeth on the upper jaw with dentures

Periodontitis

If your gingivitis isn’t treated, the inflammation may spread to the ligaments and bones that hold your teeth in place. This is 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. This may irritate your gums even more by collecting more plaque. The pockets may then get deeper and even more difficult to clean, making the problem worse. Sometimes you may develop an infection in your gums. Pus may collect under your gums, causing an abscess.

Untreated periodontitis can cause your gums to shrink back from your teeth (called 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 a number of years, you may even lose some teeth.

If your gingivitis has developed into periodontitis, you may experience bad breath (halitosis), gum recession, sensitive teeth or even a wobbly tooth. If you have any of these symptoms, contact a dentist.

Acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG)

ANUG is a serious type of gum disease that develops 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.

The symptoms of ANUG include painful ulcers that bleed easily, bad breath and a metallic taste in your mouth. You may also have a high temperature and feel generally unwell.

If you have any of these symptoms, you should see a dentist straight away.

What are the symptoms of gum disease?

Usually the first signs of gingivitis are:

  • Bleeding gums when you brush your teeth or eat something hard like an apple
  • Red and swollen gums

If your gingivitis has developed into periodontitis, you may also have:

  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • A bad taste in your mouth
  • Gum recession and sensitive teeth
  • A wobbly tooth or teeth
  • Gum abscesses (pus that collects under your gum)

The symptoms of acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG) 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
  • Feeling generally unwell – possibly with a high temperature (fever)

If you have any of these symptoms, you should see your dentist straight away. Find a Bupa Dental Care dentist near you and make an appointment.

How is gum disease treated?

The type of treatment you 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.

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 these get better over time.

If your dentist thinks you have periodontitis, they will use a periodontal probe to measure the depth of any gaps between your teeth and gums. They may check how easily your gums bleed and how much plaque and tartar you have on your teeth. You may also need to have X-rays to check the state of your teeth and jaw bone.

If you have more serious periodontitis, your dentist may refer you to a periodontist. This is a healthcare professional who specialises in treating periodontal diseases; we have many specialists throughout the Bupa Dental Care network.

Smiling woman handing over bag.

Medicines for gum disease

Antibiotics aren’t usually prescribed for gingivitis or mild periodontitis. But if you have a very serious infection, your dentist may recommend a course of antibiotics.

Your hygienist may recommend an antiseptic mouthwash to help discourage the growth of bacteria, but a mouthwash can’t remove plaque that’s already built up on your teeth - this needs to be brushed off or removed by a hygienist.

Dentist discussing treatment with a patient.

Root Planing

If you have periodontitis or acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG), you may need treatment to remove plaque, tartar and damaged tooth covering. This is called root planing.

Your dentist or hygienist may use a local anaesthetic to make the root planing more comfortable. This will completely block the feeling from your gums.

Patient in dentist’s chair discussing treatment with dental surgeon.

Surgery for gum disease

If your gum disease is severe, and other treatments haven’t worked, you may need to have gum surgery. This may help to remove bacteria and repair your gums and bone. It may also improve how your teeth look and reduce any sensitivity.

For gum surgery, your dentist would probably refer you to a periodontist.

For more information on treatments for gum disease, contact your local Bupa Dental Care practice.

What causes gum disease?

Gum disease happens 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 things 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.

If you think you may have gum disease, you should seek advice from your dentist. Find your nearest Bupa Dental Care practice and book an appointment.

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Bupa Dental Care is a trading name of Oasis Healthcare Limited. Registered in England and Wales number: 03257078. Registered office: Bupa Dental Care Vantage Office Park, Old Gloucester Road, Hambrook, Bristol, United Kingdom BS16 1GW.

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