Signs of gum disease and how to prevent it

Specialist Periodontist at Bupa UK
08 May 2018

Having gum disease can spoil your smile. It’s a very common problem – most of us have some degree of gum disease at times. The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to keep it in check. Looking after your teeth with a simple daily routine will help keep your gums healthy and your smile sparkling.

A dad brushes his daughter's teeth

What is gum disease?

Gum disease can range from mild inflammation of your gums to a severe condition where the tissues and bone around your teeth break down.

The mildest form of gum disease is called gingivitis. This is where your gums become sore and swollen, usually as a result of the build up of plaque around your teeth. Plaque is the soft, sticky substance, containing bacteria, which forms a film on your teeth every day. If you don’t remove plaque, it irritates your gums.

If left alone, gingivitis can develop into a more serious condition called periodontitis. This is where deep pockets of infection form around your teeth. Periodontitis causes long-term inflammation of your gums, which eventually damages the surrounding tissues, including the bone of your jaw. Without their usual support, your teeth may slowly move out of place, become loose or even fall out.

What are the signs of gum disease?

It’s possible to have gum disease and not notice any symptoms at all. Gum disease doesn’t usually cause pain, even when it’s severe.

Symptoms of gum disease may include:

  • red or swollen gums
  • bleeding when you brush or floss your teeth
  • gums that pull away from your teeth (receding gums) – your teeth may look longer
  • bad breath that doesn’t go away
  • a bad taste in your mouth
  • loose teeth
  • sores in your mouth
  • pain when you chew and difficulty eating

These aren’t always signs of gum disease, but it’s important to see your dentist if you have any of these symptoms.

Who gets gum disease?

Because plaque builds up on everyone’s teeth, anyone can get gum disease. However, some people are more likely to get it than others. For instance, you’re more likely to get gum disease if you:

  • smoke
  • are under emotional stress
  • have diabetes
  • have a poor diet
  • are obese

Evidence suggests a link between gum disease and general health problems. Experts also think that you might be more likely to get gum disease if it runs in your family (genetic make-up).

What can I do to prevent gum disease?

The way to prevent gum disease is to remove plaque from your teeth regularly. Follow these simple daily steps to help keep your teeth and gums healthy.

  • Brush your teeth twice a day, including last thing at night. Ask your dentist or hygienist to show you the best way.
  • Choose the right toothbrush for you. Your dentist or hygienist can give you advice. Electric toothbrushes can be especially good at removing plaque.
  • Clean between your teeth every day using interdental brushes or dental floss.

Mouthwashes may help, but are never a substitute for removing plaque physically with a brush.

If you smoke, giving up will help reduce your chance of getting gum disease, as well as giving you many other health benefits.

Regular visits to your dentist are very important. They can check your mouth for signs of gum disease, and give you lots of advice about how to care for your teeth and gums. 

Caring for your teeth is an important part of looking after your overall health. Discover more about our range of dentistry services.

Dr Rosalind O'Leary
Specialist Periodontist at Bupa UK

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