What are the stages of gum disease?
Gum disease is one of the most common of all dental problems, and as many as 80% of us will experience it during our lifetime. Gum disease is often referred to as a ‘silent disease’, due to the fact that it develops slowly, and the earliest symptoms of the condition are easily overlooked or ignored. This means that in many instances, by the time patients seek professional advice about the symptoms that they are experiencing, their condition has progressed to moderate or advanced stages.
Identifying and treating gum disease as early as possible is recommended if you are to avoid any unpleasant and potentially long-term effects from the condition. Here’s what you need to know about gum disease and its stages.
What is gum disease?
Gum disease is an inflammatory oral condition that is characterized by inflammation and infection of the gum tissue. Gum disease primarily occurs as a result of poor oral hygiene. When we don’t brush our teeth properly, a sticky, clear film called plaque accumulates on our teeth. This is highly acidic and packed with bacteria. If plaque isn’t removed, not only does it cause decay to develop, but the bacteria can spread onto the gum tissue where they irritate and eventually infect the gums, triggering the earliest stage of gum disease.
Stage 1 gum disease: gingivitis
The earliest stage of gum disease is known as gingivitis and is the mildest form of the condition. At this stage, plaque is only just starting to migrate onto the soft tissue of the gums. The bacteria get into the tiny gaps that form between the teeth and gums, called periodontal pockets, where infection will eventually set in. Measuring the depth of these pockets forms part of the diagnosis process, and patients with gingivitis usually have periodontal pockets that are a maximum of 4mm deep.
The earliest symptoms of gum disease are very easy to ignore and include:
- Bleeding when you brush or floss your teeth
- Bleeding when you eat something particularly hard or chewy
- Gums that appear red and swollen
The good news is that gum disease is reversible at the gingival stage. Thorough cleaning and brushing at home, as well as professional cleans by your hygienist are usually sufficient to get the problem under control.
Stage 2 gum disease: periodontal disease
By the time it reaches the second stage, many people refer to gum disease as periodontal disease. At this point, plaque will be found extending below the gum line and will be beginning to cause more serious symptoms. These include:
- Considerable bleeding when brushing and flossing your teeth
- Persistent bad breath
- Very red, tender, swollen gums
- Obvious infection
- Receding gums
- Tooth sensitivity
- Teeth may appear slightly loose
When your dentist measures your periodontal pockets, these will now measure between 6 and 7mm. Treatment is still possible if you are diagnosed with periodontal disease at this stage, but an improvement in your oral hygiene alone may not address the issue. You may need to have a procedure called ‘scaling and root planing’ which removes the bacteria from the roots of the teeth. You may also need the periodontal pockets cleaned out. Unfortunately, antibiotics are not effective in treating any stage of gum disease.
Stage 3 gum disease: periodontitis
This is the most severe stage of gum disease, referred to as periodontitis. At this point, you will have experienced irreversible damage to your gums, teeth and jawbone as the infection has spread throughout your oral cavity. Periodontal pockets will be upwards of 7mm deep at this point and may be filled with pus. The bone around your teeth will have also degenerated to the point where the tooth becomes extremely loose or even falls out. Other symptoms of this stage of gum disease include:
- Severe bad breath that cannot be improved
- Pain when biting and chewing
- Yellow/brown deposits on teeth
- Red, swollen and oozing gums
- Significant bleeding when brushing/flossing your teeth
At this stage, the infection in your mouth is so advanced that periodontal surgery will be required to clear it, although any damage already sustained will remain. You may need substantial dental work to restore the health and function of your teeth once more. This could include bone or soft tissue grafting, dental implants and more.
If you would like more information about gum disease, get in touch with our dental team today. They would be happy to answer your questions or schedule you an appointment.