Recognizing the Early Signs of Gum Disease

A clean bill of oral health doesn’t simply mean you have a cavity-free smile — it also means you have firm, pink gums that fit tightly around your teeth. Unfortunately, oral health problems like dental decay and periodontal (gum) disease are as common as they are preventable. 

Periodontal diseases, including gingivitis and periodontitis, affect nearly half of adults over the age of 30 and over two-thirds of adults past the age of 65. Unlike the average spot of decay, it can be difficult to detect gum disease until it’s more advanced and harder to treat.    

The experts at Smiles in Springfield know that when it comes to maintaining healthy gums, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. With that in mind, here’s how to recognize the early signs of gum disease before it has a chance to progress. 

Understanding gum disease

Gum disease is an infection of the tissues that hold your teeth in place. It’s caused by a buildup of bacteria-filled plaque on your teeth that irritates and inflames your gumline. 

Bacteria is a normal part of your oral ecosystem. When bacteria combine with saliva, food, and fluids, they form a soft, sticky film on the surface of your teeth called dental plaque. Plaque begins forming as soon as four hours after you brush your teeth, and it continues forming until your next brushing. 

Lingering plaque is the starting point for many common oral health issues, ranging from tooth discoloration and bad breath to dental cavities and early-stage gum disease, or gingivitis.   

Early warning signs and symptoms

Gingivitis is the precursor stage of chronic gum disease (periodontitis), a leading cause of tooth and bone loss in older adults. Periodontitis isn’t a foregone conclusion, however, as long as you don’t give gingivitis the opportunity to advance. 

Identifying and treating gingivitis as soon as possible is key to halting its progression and preventing full-blown gum disease. Early warning signs and symptoms include:

Red, swollen gums

Healthy gums are firm, light pink, and tight-fitting. When they’re infected with early-stage gum disease, they may look redder than normal and noticeably swollen or puffy. Although gingivitis can make your gums feel slightly tender, the condition isn’t usually painful.    

Bleeding gums

Gums that routinely bleed when you brush and floss your teeth is a tell-tale sign of gingivitis. Lingering plaque actively irritates and degrades the fibers that keep your teeth attached to your gums, causing the affected tissues to become more sensitive and prone to bleeding. 

Persistent bad breath

Periodic bad breath is normal, but persistent bad breath is often a sign of poor oral health due to excessive bacteria, tooth decay, or gum disease. Most cases of chronic bad breath are caused by the smelly gases released by the plaque-trapped bacteria that coat your teeth and gums. 

Reverse early-stage gum disease ...

Luckily, most cases of gingivitis can be completely reversed with attentive oral hygiene habits and regular dental exams. This means brushing and flossing thoroughly at least twice a day and having a professional cleaning and exam every six months. 

Your dentist at Smiles in Springfield can tell you where your oral hygiene habits may be falling short; they can also teach you how to improve your daily routine to prevent the kind of plaque buildup that eventually turns into tartar — hard, calcified plaque. 

Only professional dental equipment and cleaning techniques can remove tartar, which adheres tightly to your teeth and often extends below the gumline. Keeping dental plaque under control is the best way to prevent tartar and reverse early gum disease. 

… to prevent advanced gum disease

Controlling plaque and preventing tartar is crucial to gum health because tartar can effectively accelerate the progression of gum disease into its more serious, advanced stages.  

Advanced gum disease is an irreversible condition that can cause your gums to recede from your teeth, forming open pockets that can trap food particles and become infected. As it progressively breaks down the soft tissues and bones that keep your teeth in place, your teeth may become loose or even fall out. 

Periodontal therapy can help you keep periodontitis in check, but it can’t cure the disease. This is why it’s so important to recognize the early signs of gingivitis and reverse the problem while you still can. 

If you’d like to learn more about preventing, detecting, or treating gum disease, we can help. Call 703-634-4239 to schedule a visit with one of the periodontal specialists in our Springfield, Virginia, office today. 

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