How to Spot and Treat Early Stage Gum Disease

Are you (or are other people) noticing you have consistently bad breath?

Are your gums changing in color —a brighter red, a dark purple?

Are your gums tender? Do they bleed when you’re brushing and flossing, leaving you with blood on your toothbrush and in your sink?

These symptoms and others may be signs of gum (periodontal) disease. If left untreated, periodontitis leads to serious consequences for your mouth and overall well-being.

Fortunately, when oral health professionals catch early stage periodontitis, it’s highly treatable. Establishing and sticking with a regular program of dental care makes gum disease highly preventable, too.

 Man in bathrobe in bathroom holds toothbrush in left hand and right hand to side of jaw, feeling early stage gum disease pain.

At Penn Dental Family Practice we’re concerned about the prevalence of periodontitis, precisely because people can do so much—but too often don’t—to avoid it, or arrest its progress before it reaches the moderate and advanced stages in which it’s most harmful.

Read on for a brief introduction to gum disease: what it is, how to spot it, and how you and oral health professionals can stop it.

Understanding the Different Stages of Gum Disease

Periodontal disease usually results from plaque buildup on the teeth. Plaque is a sticky bacterial film on the surface of teeth. When plaque isn’t adequately removed, it hardens into tartar only a dentist can scrape away, and can inflame the gum tissues.

Early Stage Periodontitis

In early stage periodontitis, this inflammation causes gum recession. The inflamed tissue pulls away from the teeth, forming periodontal pockets—small spaces big enough to trap food particles, which create more bacteria and more plaque. Eventually, what’s in those pockets can infect the gum tissues and the bone supporting teeth.

When clinically described, early stage gum disease sounds dramatic. It can also do dramatic damage to oral health. Still, people with early stage periodontitis often don’t know they have it. This stage is called gingivitis, and may cause little pain. Warning signs can be easy to dismiss as minor nuisances and “no big deal.”

Moderate Periodontitis

Left untreated, however, the condition progresses and becomes moderate periodontitis. At this stage, the symptoms become more painful and harder to ignore. Gum recession becomes more pronounced, and teeth may become loose as the bones supporting them are damaged.

Advanced Periodontitis

Ultimately, in advanced periodontitis, painful abscesses in the gum tissues—pockets of pus caused by bacterial infection—at the side of a tooth root develop, leading to tooth loss.

 Woman wearing dental smock reclines in dental chair, awaiting professional cleaning of her teeth to maintain healthy gums.

Because the harmful bacteria can enter the bloodstream through the gums, advanced periodontal disease threatens more than gums and teeth. It has also been linked to other health problems including respiratory disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and coronary artery disease.

Recognizing and Treating the Early Stage of Gum Disease

Nearly half of Americans age 30 or older (47.2%) have some form of periodontal disease, according to the CDC. Among Americans who are 65 or older, its prevalence rises to 70.1%.

Some signs of early stage periodontitis are:

  • Chronic bad breath or bad taste
  • Swollen, tender, or red gums
  • Gum recession
  • Gums bleeding during brushing and flossing
  • Sensitive or loose teeth
  • Pain when chewing
  • Changes in bite alignment or partial denture fit

If you see or experience any of these symptoms, make and keep an appointment with a dentist right away. In the early stage of gum disease, it remains easier to treat.

Even if you’re not experiencing these symptoms, routine dental care is critical in preventing periodontitis. Your best defense takes place at your own bathroom sink. Properly brushing and flossing your teeth every day removes bacteria that threaten the gum tissues. Additionally, regular professional cleanings of your teeth, at least once a year, go a long way toward ensuring your oral health. Routine dental visits leave your teeth clean, your gums healthy, and your smile bright!

Are you looking for a dentist who can treat your early stage periodontitis, or meet your other oral health needs?

Download Penn Dental Family Practice’s free eBook, Discover the Solution to Your Tooth Pain: How To Identify a Dentist Office You Can Trust. It will help you identify and weigh the most important factors in choosing a dental care provider for you and your family.

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