Gum Problems (cont.)

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What are signs and symptoms of gum problems?

Healthy gums should appear coral pink and firm without bleeding. Signs and symptoms of gum inflammation include redness, swelling, bleeding, and pain. Any of these signs could indicate a problem. Receding gums may also be a sign of gum disease. Gums recede as a result of the destruction of the underlying bone surrounding the teeth. Once the bone is lost, the gums recede and expose the root surface of a tooth.

Can gum problems be a sign of something serious?

Given the fact that gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss, having healthy gums is certainly something for which we should strive. Loss of teeth can negatively impact an individual in many ways through loss of nutrition, psycho-social concerns, and self-esteem issues.

Also, gum problems have been linked to several systemic diseases including, most notably, heart disease. Inflammation appears to be the key factor that links heart disease to gum problems. Research suggests that having gum disease increases the risk of heart disease in an individual.

How are gum problems treated?

A gum exam performed by a dentist can determine the best way to treat a gum problem. The exam measures the gum pockets ("periodontal pocket") around all the teeth and gum recession as well as takes note of signs of inflammation. For the periodontal pocket, a higher measurement may indicate bone loss. For more advanced gum problems, a gum specialist ("periodontist") is seen for treatment.

In the case of gingivitis, a professional dental cleaning may be needed to remove the buildup of tartar and plaque around the teeth. This procedure allows the gums to heal. Additionally, specific oral hygiene instruction and a recommended schedule for routine care are equally important to maintaining gum health.

For gum disease, treatment is more involved. The first step usually involves a more thorough deep professional dental cleaning called "scaling and root planing." This removes the tartar deposits and plaque that are deeply sequestered in the pockets of the gums. Medications can also be employed to control bacteria infecting the gums. The medications come in the form of antimicrobial (antibacterial) oral rinses, oral antibiotics, and antibiotics placed directly into the gum pockets. Lastly, there is gum surgery to treat areas that do not respond to scaling and root planing and/or medications. The goal of gum surgery is to remove diseased tissue, preserve the remaining gums and bone, and create an environment that is easy to keep clean.

Usually, gum recession is left alone unless there is an extensive amount of recession that compromises the health of the tooth or there is a cosmetic concern. A procedure called a "gum graft" may be performed that takes tissue from another area in the mouth (such as the roof of the mouth) and surgically grafts it onto the area of recession.

For a gum abscess, scaling and root planing is performed to clear out debris, diseased tissue, and any pus that may be present. The area is irrigated with antimicrobial rinses and may have antibiotics directly placed into the pocket. Oral antibiotics may also be prescribed to help control the infection. Once the abscess disappeared, the area can be assessed for further treatment such as surgery to avoid a reoccurring gum problem.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/11/2014

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