Periodontitis (gum disease) – Symptoms, Causes and Prevention

You know when your gums are healthy because they are firm, they fit snugly around your teeth and they are pale pink in colour.  However, if you have any of the following symptoms, you must contact your dental surgery immediately.  This is because the sooner you do, the more chance there is of reversing any damage done by the disease:

  • Swollen or puffy gums
  • Bright red, dusky red or purplish gums
  • Gums that feel tender when touched
  • Gums that bleed easily
  • Pink-tinged toothbrush after brushing
  • Spitting out blood when brushing or flossing your teeth
  • Bad breath
  • Pus between your teeth and gums
  • Loose teeth or loss of teeth
  • Painful chewing
  • New spaces developing between your teeth
  • Gums that pull away from your teeth (recede), making your teeth look longer than normal
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite


In the majority of cases, the problem begins with plaque, which is a sticky coating on your teeth carrying a lot of bacteria.  This is what happens if you don’t have it treated:

  • Plaque forms quickly on your teeth when starches and sugars left over from food react with the bacteria in your mouth.  The imperative is to brush twice daily and to floss once a day, but be aware – plaque re-forms very quickly. 
  • Plaque hardens under your gumline into tartar (calculus) if you let it stay on your teeth.   Tartar is more difficult to remove and it’s filled with bacteria. The only way to get rid of it is to have it removed by your dentist or dental hygienist.
  • Plaque can cause gingivitis.  Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease, causing irritation and inflammation of the part of your gum tissue around the base of your teeth (gingiva).  It can be treated with a combination of professional cleaning and an improved home hygiene regime.
  • Neglected gum inflammation can cause periodontitis.  Spaces between your gums and teeth fill with plaque, tartar and bacteria and these pockets become deeper, filling with ever more bacteria. These deep infections cause a loss of tissue and bone, which is when you have a chance of losing one or even more of your teeth.   To add to your unhappiness, such infections can put a strain on your body’s immune system.

Increasing the Risk:

  • Gingivitis
  • Poor oral health habits
  • Smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Pregnancy or menopausal hormone changes
  • Smoking marijuana or vaping
  • Obesity
  • Inadequate nutrition, including vitamin C deficiency
  • Genetics
  • Certain medications that cause dry mouth or gum changes
  • Conditions that cause decreased immunity, such as leukaemia, HIV/AIDS and cancer treatment
  • Certain diseases, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease

Note that the bacteria can cause:  respiratory disease, rheumatoid arthritis, coronary artery disease and problems controlling blood sugar in diabetes.

How to prevent periodontitis:

  • Good oral hygiene. Brush your teeth twice each day for two minutes.  Floss once per day. 
  • Regular dental visits. Every six months or as advised by 
  • your dentist.

If you are in any doubt as to whether you have gum disease, then be sure to put your mind at rest by contacting your dental surgery for a check.  It won’t take long and could save you a great deal of inconvenience, cost and discomfort in the longer term.

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