How can I tell if I have gum disease?
There are multiple stages of gum disease. All of which can result in the loss of bone and/or gum tissue around the teeth. A person can have ongoing gum disease for many years and never know it. How come? Gum disease is rarely painful until its advanced stages when a person is already in the process of losing teeth.
So, how can I tell if I have gum disease?
Gum disease can be self-diagnosed by recognizing its subtle signs and symptoms. Check to see whether you have one or more of the following signs and symptoms. The more of these symptoms you are experiencing, the greater the possibility that you might have gum disease:
1) Bad breath –
If you’ve ever stood talking to someone with advanced stages of gum disease you’ll never forget their bad breath. The bacteria associated with gum disease are “anaerobic.” These bacteria grow under the gumline in the absence of air (oxygen) and produce gases and other byproducts giving off offensive odors. If you have you ever turned over an old water-logged compost pile and gotten a whiff, you’ll know what anaerobic bacterial decomposition smells like!
2) Red puffy gums –
Healthy gums should be a nice coral pink color. Some ethnicities have pigmentation in their gums that impart darker and brownish hues. In no cases should the gums be fire engine red, puffy or shiny. This is an important indicator for the presence of gum disease.
3) Bleeding gums –
Your gums shouldn’t bleed when you brush or floss them. Fishing out a pesky piece of popcorn kernel that gets lodged in your gums is one thing. Finding blood on your toothbrush or floss after cleaning your teeth, especially if this is a regular occurrence, is another thing that indicates it’s likely you have some stage of gum disease.
4) Spaces opening up between your teeth –
Unless you’ve just had braces removed; there aren’t too many other conditions that cause spaces to suddenly open up between your teeth. Gum disease causes bone loss between the teeth which results in the retraction of the gums that are supposed to be tight and snug around the teeth.
Dentist’s sometimes refer to the spaces that open up between the teeth caused by gum disease as “black triangles.” The appearance of black triangles is ominous of deteriorating gum health.
5) Drifting or protrusion of front teeth –
Orthodontists move teeth by applying pressure to the teeth with wire or various appliances. When teeth lose a majority of their natural bone support from long standing gum disease, normal day-to-day activities like tongue pressure on your teeth while swallowing can become like the orthodontist’s wire. In other words, the regular actions of your tongue can start moving your teeth! If your front teeth suddenly start moving forward, getting longer and/or start moving away from each other, resulting in separation between the teeth, then you’re overdue to get checked for gum disease.
6) Loose teeth –
This progressive bone loss that we’ve mentioned above, due to gum disease, results in an ever-increasing mobility of the teeth. Although there are other conditions that can cause teeth to become loose, gum disease is by far the single most common cause of teeth becoming loose. If your teeth are starting to get loose, please get them checked!
7) Long teeth –
The progression of bone loss and gum loss most often results in teeth appearing to get longer and longer with time. Back in the day when medical understanding was not what it is today people often referred to aging as “getting long in the tooth.” It was not understood then that it was the gum disease that was causing people to lose their gum tissue and the bone that supported their teeth. Their teeth were progressively getting longer and looser. It was thought that these were natural and inevitable signs of aging. Today we know that this was actually preventable.
8) Teeth turning black along the gumline –
The exposed metal margin of a crown can cause an unsightly black line along the gumline at the base of a tooth. This is not actually the most common cause of black discoloration along the gumline of your teeth.
Bacterial plaque that is not removed daily with brushing and flossing will mineralize to form calculus. If that calculus has formed under the gumline and is under anaerobic conditions (in the absence of air) it will be black. The gum disease associated bacteria that grow under the gumline produce black pigments that incorporate into the calculus. When the teeth start getting longer because gum tissue and bone loss is taking place, voila, the black calculus that was hidden under the gums can suddenly be seen at or above the gums.
9) Receding gums –
Many dentists today think that brushing your teeth too hard is the leading cause of receding gums. This is not so! The most common cause of receding gums is chronic low-grade inflammation of the gums; a condition that can occur both in people who brush and floss regularly as well as those that don’t clean their teeth as well as they should. Although the causes of this can be somewhat different from the more common causes of gum disease itself, the result of receding gums is the same. Similarly, before any receding of the gums can take place there has to be bone loss. It is the bone that holds the gums in their place and it is these stages of a persons bone degenerating that are most critical to prevent as gum disease progresses.
“Gum disease” is a progressive timeline and encompasses everything from its earliest stages of infection (gingivitis) all the way to bone degeneration and the resulting loss of teeth. If you are worried that you are experiencing one or more of these conditions you may want to consult with your dentist or a periodontist. If you aren’t already seeing a regular dentist give us a call today and our family at Bell Harbour Dental will be happy to help you out!
Adrian Pawlowski, DDS MSD – a practicing periodontist in the Belltown area of downtown Seattle.