Understanding gum disease to better protect against it

Did you know that gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults? This is partly because gum disease is often painless until it reaches advanced stages of periodontitis. Plus, many people don’t know much about gum disease or how it progresses. Unfortunately, these factors make it incredibly easy and common to miss gum disease at home, which is just one reason regular trips to the dentist are so important.

The good news is that understanding gum disease, its stages, and the answers to questions like, “How long does gum disease take to develop?” can help you better protect your oral health. With this in mind, we’ve put together a guide on gum disease and its progression to help ensure you have all the information needed to for your dentist so they can take care of your oral health.

What is gingivitis?

Gingivitis is the earliest stage of gum disease, which is an infection where bacteria gathered along your gumline release acids that attack and irritate your gums. Since it’s the earliest stage, it’s also the mildest, which means it’s incredibly easy to miss gingivitis at home. Despite this, there are several symptoms you can spot if you know what to look for.

The easiest symptom to recognize is that your gums will likely bleed when you floss. You may also notice that your gums have darkened in color or are swollen or puffy; though this might be mild and easy to miss. As gingivitis worsens, it can also cause symptoms like persistently bad breath and tender or receding gums. You may not have all of these symptoms, especially if your gingivitis is mild, but bleeding gums are a surefire sign of gum disease.

What is periodontitis?

Periodontitis is an infection, the final and most serious stage of gum disease. When you have periodontitis, your gums begin to pull away from your teeth, breaking the seal around them that protects your tooth roots from bacteria. Gingivitis symptoms are still present in periodontitis, though often worse. For example, gums bleed more easily, potentially bleeding when you simply brush your teeth. You might notice that your toothbrush is tinged pink when you finish brushing your teeth.

Despite these worsening symptoms, periodontitis is still easy for you to miss at home because it’s often painless until it’s severe. The bacteria can wreak havoc on both your gums and your tooth roots, so you may begin to notice more obvious symptoms as the condition worsens. This can include symptoms like tender gums, difficulty or pain when chewing, pus seeping out between your teeth and gums, a change in the way your bite fits together, and teeth that feel loose.

How is gingivitis treated?

The good news is that gingivitis is incredibly easy to treat! In most cases, it can be treated simply by implementing and sticking to a great oral hygiene routine at home. This includes making sure you brush your teeth for at least two minutes twice a day, floss at least once a day, and use mouthwash either once or twice a day, depending on the directions on the specific type of mouthwash you use. Your dentist may also recommend you get a specialized mouthwash that is designed to help fight against gingivitis.

Flossing is a particularly important part of treating and preventing gum disease because it breaks up the bacteria along your gum line, preventing it from attacking or irritating your gums. Generally, mild gingivitis will clear up after sticking to this routine for about two weeks, but continuing the habit can help ensure it doesn’t come back.

What happens when gingivitis is left untreated?

When gingivitis is left untreated, it does the same thing any other untreated infection does—it gets worse. Bacteria continues to spread and produce harmful acids, further damaging your gums. Over time, untreated gingivitis can develop into periodontitis. So, how long does it take for gum disease to develop? One study found that if you’re starting from level 1 gingivitis, it takes an average of 66.8 weeks, which is a little over 15 months, to develop into periodontitis. If your gingivitis is more advanced than this, it takes less time.

Level 2 gingivitis progresses to periodontitis in an average of 65.6 weeks, while level 3 gingivitis takes an average of 64 weeks. The good news about this timetable is if you keep up with regular dental appointments, there’s plenty of time for you to receive a diagnosis and treat your gingivitis before it turns into periodontitis.

What happens when periodontitis is left untreated?

Since periodontitis is a much more advanced and severe form of gum disease, it has the potential for major consequences if it goes untreated. It can permanently damage your gums, teeth, and even your jaw by leading to gum recession, bone loss in your jaw, and even tooth loss. The bacteria attacking your gums and tooth roots can even make their way into your bloodstream.

This can lead to issues with your overall health, including an increased risk of issues like cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke. Inhaling bacteria can cause you to develop pneumonia or other respiratory illnesses, and, in rare cases, bacteria in your bloodstream can make it to your heart, causing an infection of the inner lining; this is called endocarditis. Most people’s immune systems are healthy enough to stop these bacteria before they make it there, but when it does occur, this infection can be life-threatening.

How should you handle gum disease?

When it comes to treating gum disease, the best thing you can do is catch it at the earliest stage of infection—while it’s still incredibly easy to treat and before it has the chance to do permanent damage to your gums or teeth. This is just one of many reasons it’s so important to visit your dentist every six months. Your dentist is trained to spot even the earliest signs of gum disease, so even if you miss signs of gingivitis at home, your dentist will be able to spot the problem during your regular check-up.

Despite this, we understand it’s easy to miss gum disease in its early stages, and many different factors can serve as real barriers between you and treatment. If you know or suspect that you already have gum disease, especially if you know your teeth are in bad shape, you may have a lot more concern or anxiety about coming into our office, but it’s okay. We understand, and we’re here to make things better for you! We just want the best for you, and we’re willing to do what it takes to help you get there.

Periodontal disease is incredibly common, but that doesn’t mean experiencing it is inevitable or even normal. Thankfully, it’s incredibly easy to prevent, and you can work with your dentist at First Dental Associates to find an oral hygiene routine that works best for you. Doing so doesn’t just improve your oral health—it improves and protects your overall health, too! If you’d like to learn more about gum disease and how preventing it can benefit your overall health, or if it’s time for your regular dental appointment, feel free to schedule a consultation with First Dental Associates at any time.