Did you know that gums can get infected by bacteria that is left on the teeth and gums due to poor oral hygiene? This lease to two main classes of gum disease, gingivitis and periodontitis. When should we seek treatment and how do we know when urgent treatment is needed?
Gingivitis is the inflammation of the superficial gums around the teeth and it’s considered the milder form of gum disease, if left untreated, this infection can lead to periodontal disease or Periodontitis, (per-e-o-don-TIE-tis) which is a serious gum infection that damages the soft tissue and destroys the bone that supports your teeth. When the supporting bone is destroyed, the tooth starts to become mobile and it can eventually fall out. 😢 (mayoclinic.org, 2019)
What causes gum infection and disease?
The major cause of gum disease is bacterial plaque, a sticky white film composed of food debris and bacteria that forms on the teeth. If plaque is not removed, it causes the gums to become inflamed, red and irritated. Furthermore, once the immunity is weakened from smoking, stress, or systemic disease, the bacteria win and the bone and gums surrounding the teeth dissolve due to chemicals released by the body.
These chemicals are meant to fight the bacteria but it can end up harming our own body if our inflammation response is not optimum. When this happens, the gums separate from the teeth, forming pockets that fill with even more plaque and causing even more bacterial entry and infection.
A vicious cycle now ensues. The bacteria and food become calcified under the gums and turns into tartar. Tartar looks like very very big blackheads under the skin. It’s just stuck on the teeth and continues to irritate the body to produce even more inflammation and bone loss. It leads to shaky teeth and bad breath from the build-up of bacteria in the gums. (efp.org, 2019)
What is a gum boil? Is it an infection?
Sometimes the immune system gets so weak especially during times of intense stress that the chronic gum diseases turn acute. It looks like a gum boil and its scientific name is “periodontal abscess”. (Periodontal abscess: etiology, diagnosis and treatment]
The periodontal abscess is an acute destructive process of the structures surrounding the teeth resulting in localized collections of pus. The pus may drain through the gums and emit a foul smell. Pus is a thick, opaque, usually yellowish-white, fluid matter that is formed as part of an inflammatory response typically associated with an infection and is composed of exudate chiefly containing dead white blood cells (such as neutrophils), tissue debris, and pathogenic microorganisms (such as bacteria) (Merriam-webster.com, 2019)
What is gum infection treatment?
One of the most common gum infection treatment procedures for periodontitis is a deep cleaning of the gum line (scaling and root planing). (Nonsurgical treatment of periodontitis, 2012)
Scaling and root planing is considered the gold standard of Periodontitis treatment and is commonly done. The area will be numbed with a local anaesthetic by your dentist or periodontist and the tartar is broken up by instruments and flushed out with water. The root surfaces are then smoothened to decrease the plaque retentive tendencies.
In the situation where a periodontal abscess is present, further management is needed. The pus needs to be drained either through the gum pocket or through the sides of the abscess; You may also need to extract the tooth if there is advanced attachment loss and the prognosis of the tooth is poor. (jcda.ca, 2019)
Systemic antibiotics may also be recommended if the abscess threatens to spread to vital areas like the brain or the throat region. (The periodontal abscess: a review, 2001)
When is gum infection treatment urgent?
It is very urgent when you get systemic signs like a fever or a rapidly growing swelling around the gums or face. If these health problems happen, see a dentist immediately! It could mean that the acute gum infection has spread and you might need medical treatment in conjunction with dental treatment.
Gum infection treatment is also needed when you notice these signs and symptoms. (Not as urgent as the above, but you still need to see a dentist or periodontist as soon as possible)
- Red, swollen or tender gums that persist more than 1 week
- Spontaneous bleeding from gums
- Pus from the gums
- Persistent bad breath
- Continuing gum recession
- Longer teeth
- Increasing spaces between teeth
If you notice one or more of these symptoms, something is not quite right. Do see your dentist to check if you need gum infection treatment. Remember, an early diagnosis is always better, so don’t keep waiting! Always maintain a regular routine of brushing and flossing. Although persistent bad breath cannot kill you, it is still wise to seek treatment with a dentist or periodontist or a consultation with a dental hygienist as soon as possible to prevent the gum infection from getting worse and spreading.
- Valyi, Gorzo (2004, Periodontal abscess: etiology, diagnosis and treatment)
- Sanz L, Alonso B, Carasol M, Herrera D, Sanz M (2012, Nonsurgical treatment of periodontitis)
- J Can Dent Assoc, 2013;79:d8
- Herrera, Roldán, Sanz (2001, The periodontal abscess: a review)