Gum disease is caused by a build-up of hardened bacteria and minerals excreted from the saliva. The gum disease process can be sped up by a diet high in sugar, acid, and carbohydrates, smoking, alcohol, medical conditions and medications, and most commonly poor oral health care practices.
Gum disease progresses through four stages from mild to severe. This does not include healthy gums, being the ideal stage for everyone. A patient is deemed from moving from healthy gums to having gum disease when they begin to show signs of inflammation of the gums tissue. This is the first stage of gum disease known as gingivitis.
The Four Stages of Gum Disease.
- Slight periodontal disease
- Moderate periodontal disease
- Severe or advanced periodontal disease
Stage 1: Gingivitis gum disease.
The first sign your gums are not in a healthy state is usually the sight of blood in the sink when you rinse after brushing and flossing. However, bleeding gums may not always occur even if you do have gingivitis as in the case of heavy smokers or those on medication designed to reduce blood flow. This can make self-diagnosis and an awareness that things are not quite right difficult for some people. Gingivitis occurs when a build-up of hardened bacteria and continual soft plaque surrounds the necks of the teeth for too long, irritating the soft gum tissue and causing inflammation, redness, and bleeding, as mentioned.
The most fortunate thing about this stage of gum disease is that it is completely reversible. With a visit to the dentist for thorough professional teeth cleaning, and the right tools and techniques being used daily at home, a patient can easily return their gums to a perfectly healthy state in no time. And since there has been no damage to the boney foundations that keep a tooth standing strong and permanently fixed in place, a patient can feel confident they will continue to keep their teeth for life, if they continue with maintaining proper daily oral hygiene care and six-monthly dental visits for teeth cleaning.
Stage 2: Slight periodontal (gum) disease.
If you fail to treat the early signs of gum disease, gingivitis, your gums will continue to become more irritated and inflamed, however, this is not the most concerning part of stage two gum disease. To be diagnosed as having slight periodontal gum disease means you have started to lose bone from around the teeth themselves. This bone supports and holds your teeth in place and is vital to maintain if you wish to keep your teeth for life. Unfortunately what is now happening is this bone has started to deteriorate, from the constant attack of hardened bacteria and plaque trapped in the natural pockets surrounding each tooth, and has become a chronic condition your body is now forced to fight on a daily basis. In a healthy mouth, the natural pocket depth that surrounds each tooth is 1-2mm. If you are diagnosed with stage two periodontal gum disease this means this pocket depth has increased to measure between 4-6mm.
To treat stage two gum disease you will need more thorough and deeper professional teeth cleaning with a dental professional trained in treating chronic gum disease. Over one or two appointments they will remove the trapped bacteria and hardened debris effectively which has attached itself to the side of your tooth and become wedged deep inside the gum pocket. Home care and DIY remedies will not cure this condition – only manual removal by a dental expert will halt any further progression of the gum disease process and give you the best chance of keeping your teeth.
Stage 3: Moderate periodontal (gum) disease.
If no intervention or treatment takes place, the gum disease process will continue to worsen, albeit slowly over time often making it a silent condition that usually goes completely unnoticed to the person.
Signs that your gum disease has progressed into stage three may include;
- Gums bleed easily when touched, brushed, or eating hard foods
- The color of the gums are red (not pink) and are puffy and inflamed
- Your breath smells like rotten eggs – often not obvious to you yourself, yet those around you will show signs of smelling a bad odor when you talk
- There is a heavy build-up of creamy colored, hardened tartar around the necks of the teeth that can not be removed by a toothbrush
- You get a bad taste in your mouth
If you have reached stage three gum disease you have now lost between 20% – 50% of the bone that surrounds the teeth. Not all teeth will be affected to the same degree, however, the gum disease process has now taken over the mouth and will continue to spread and infect opposing teeth over time. To treat this level of gum disease will require a longer and more costly commitment to remove the infection and cure the symptoms. To maintain stability and prevent the disease from returning, a vigilant daily home care routine is imperative along with 3 – 4 monthly dental visits for review of the health of the gum and professional teeth cleaning to remove any bacteria that has built up early, before it has a chance to take hold once more.
Stage 4: Severe periodontal (gum) disease.
Stage four is the final stage of gum disease and of course is the most damaging. At this late stage, which usually takes many years of neglect and poor oral health to develop into, a patient may start to notice mobile or loose teeth. This is due to 50% – 85% of the bone is lost over time during the gum disease process. Much like the symptoms outlined in stage three, a person will have bleeding, red and inflamed gums, bad breath, and often a heavy build-up of creamy bacteria that’s cemented itself to the teeth both above and below the gumline.
A referral for extensive treatment by a periodontal specialist is most often required to treat this advanced stage of gum disease. In extreme and severe cases, a patient may be forced to have teeth removed to help the body heal in an attempt to return the mouth to a healthy and more manageable state.
It is important to note that when the bone is lost from around the teeth such as in stage two to four gum disease, this bone can never grow back or be replaced without the intervention of surgery to graft more bone and gum into the area. This is an expensive and time-consuming process and one that can be easily avoided with simple, yet consistent oral hygiene care rituals.