Gum Disease

Gum or periodontal disease affects the gums and supporting structures of the teeth. Gingivitis is an early stage of periodontal disease, where the gums may become red, swollen and bleed easily. It may begin in early childhood and increases in prevalence and severity in the early teenage years. In New Zealand, approximately 80% of those over the age of 15 have this disease.

Gingivitis is usually painless and easily treated in dental practice along with changes in your home care. If not treated gingivitis can advance to the next stage of periodontal disease which is difficult to treat. As the bone and tissues surrounding the teeth become damaged by this disease, periodontitis, a gum pocket forms around the tooth. This pocket becomes infected, which permanently destroys more bone and tissue. Eventually, the tooth becomes loose and falls out or needs to be extracted.

Periodontal disease is a bacterial infection caused by bacteria present in plaque ( the flurry film of debris, which clings to the teeth). If not removed carefully each day by brushing and flossing, plaque hardens into a rough, porous substance called calculus (also known as tartar). Toxins, produced by bacteria in plaque, irritate the gums. Left in place, the toxins cause the gums to pull away from the teeth and periodontal pockets are formed which fill with more toxins and bacteria. As the disease progresses, pockets extend deeper and the plaque moves farther and farther down until the bone that holds the tooth in place is destroyed. The tooth eventually will fall out or require extraction.

Warning Signs

    • Red, swollen or tender gums
    • Bleeding while brushing or flossing
    • Gums that pull away from the teeth
    • Loose or separating teeth
    • Pus between the gum and a tooth
    • Persistent bad breath
    • A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
    • A change in the fit of partial dentures.

      Sometimes gum disease can progress without any symptoms or pain.

Diagnosis and Prevention

Proper brushing twice a day and flossing daily will help prevent periodontal disease. During a regular dental examination, the dentist or hygienist will inspect the gums and probe between the tooth and gum to check for periodontal disease so undetected disease can be treated before it can advance. A professional cleaning every three to six months by a dentist or dental hygienist will remove plaque and calculus from hard-to-reach areas that might otherwise be susceptible to periodontal disease. If signs of disease have progressed to a certain point, the dentist may suggest the patient see a periodontist, a dentist who specialises in the treatment of periodontal disease.

Auckland Dental Association 1/195 Main Highway, Ellerslie, Auckland. Phone: 09 580 0081 Email: