Can Gum Disease Kill You?

What is Gum Disease?

Swelling, pain, or inflammation of the tissues supporting the teeth is called gum disease. Gingivitis and periodontal disease are the two most common types of gum disease. "gingivitis" refers to gum inflammation when the gums around the teeth become very red and swollen.9 When the swollen gums are rubbed during cleaning, they frequently bleed. Gingivitis that has been present for a long time might develop into periodontal disease. Periodontal disease can take many forms, but they all harm the tissues that support the teeth. As the condition progresses, the bone that holds the teeth in place in the jaw deteriorates, causing the teeth to become loose. The teeth may eventually fall out if this is not corrected.8 

Periodontitis

Stages of Periodontitis

Stage 1

Gingivitis can progress to Stage 1 (early periodontitis) if left untreated. When the inflammation in the gums becomes harmful, it is called periodontitis. Chronic (long-term) inflammation, regardless of where it occurs in the body, can be detrimental. Chronic inflammation can harm arthritic joints like the knees, hips, and fingers. Inflammation damages the fibres that connect the roots of the teeth to the socket in periodontitis. These fibres are known as the periodontal ligament, and their injury is permanent. The signs and symptoms are nearly identical to gingivitis, making this stage challenging to distinguish from it. At this point, you won't notice any pain or other symptoms. When you brush, though, your gums will continue to bleed, and they will get inflamed.7 

Gum disease cannot be reversed after it has progressed to this stage, but it can be controlled by a periodontist and a dental health team. 

Coaching to improve your teeth cleaning technique and a deep clean, called debridement, are the first steps in treating periodontal disease. Debridement is a time-consuming operation that removes germs and calculus from your gums and tooth roots.7

Stage 2

If you don't treat your periodontitis early, it will progress to Stage 2 (moderate periodontitis). The amount of damage to the ligaments or joints between the root of the tooth and its socket is the fundamental distinction between early and middle periodontitis. When periodontitis is first diagnosed, the damage is minor and practically invisible. Because there is more significant damage, which is regrettably permanent, moderate periodontitis should be more visible to your dental team.7

Stage 3

We're at the advanced stages of periodontitis, which means you risk losing teeth. You are unlikely to suffer discomfort if your gum disease has progressed to this point. However, because your gums have receded, you may notice bad breath and taste in your mouth, and your teeth may appear longer. You may also see that your teeth are shifting or becoming loose. When you bite, the way they fit together may change. Chewing on the teeth can cause soreness, and patients can develop localised swellings or pus-filled abscesses, which are often painful.7

All treatment options, including periodontal surgery, are on the table at this point to manage your disease. It's possible that some teeth can no longer be preserved and will need to be replaced with dentures or dental implants. A periodontist, on the other hand, can assist you in determining the best treatment option for you, giving you the highest chance of saving as many teeth as possible. Periodontists are experts in gum disease and can occasionally spot things that typical dentists can't.7

Stage 4

By the time they reach Stage 4, most adults have lost several teeth and the ones that remain are often loose. The teeth may not be strong enough to handle the force of your bite when you try to chew because they are not supported by adequate gum or bone. There will be a lot of splaying and drifting of the front teeth, as well as gaps between them. It is critical to get treatment at this point. Advanced periodontal disease can lead to various other major health issues, including diabetes and heart attack. It can't be undone, but it can be controlled. Even at this late stage, gum disease can be stabilised with the support of your periodontist and other dental professionals such as prosthodontists and orthodontists.7 

When Stage 4 is reached, many people consider removing all their teeth and replacing them with dental implants. The issue is that dental implants can cause gum disease as well. Gum disease makes it far more difficult and expensive to treat implants. It is strongly advised that you get the advice of a periodontist before proceeding. Teeth cannot be replaced once they have been extracted.7

Causes and Risks of Periodontitis

When starches and sugars in food mix with bacteria found in your mouth, plaque builds on your teeth. Plaque can be removed by brushing twice daily and flossing once a day, but plaque returns fast.4

Gingivitis, the mildest form of gum disease, is caused by plaque. Gingivitis is irritating and inflammation of the gum tissue around your teeth's base (gingiva). Gingivitis can be treated and reversed with expert help and basic dental hygiene at home.4

Oral hygiene habits that are unhealthy

Tobacco use (smoking or chewing) 

Hormonal changes are common, such as those associated with pregnancy or menopause. 

Smoking marijuana or vaping is an example of recreational drug use. 

Obesity

Inadequate nutrition, especially a deficit in vitamin C 

Genetics

Medications that induce dry mouth or changes in the gums 

Immunosuppressive conditions, such as leukaemia, HIV/AIDS, and cancer treatment 

Diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn's disease are examples of diseases.

Symptoms of periodontitis

  • Swollen gums
  • Dark red gums
  • Sore gums 
  • Gums that are prone to bleeding 
  • Brushing with a pink-tinged toothbrush 
  • Breath problems 
  • Chewing is excruciating.
  • New gaps form between teeth. 

Gums that pull away from your teeth (recede), giving the appearance that your teeth are longer than they are. 

Your teeth fit together differently when you bite.

Diagnosis

Antibiotics, either topical or oral, can help manage a bacterial infection.

Root planing removes bacterial byproducts that lead to irritation and impede healing or reattachment of the gum to the tooth surfaces, as well as smoothing the root surfaces to discourage further tartar and bacteria buildup.

Scaling eliminates tartar and bacteria from the surfaces of your teeth and beneath your gum line.

Can Gum Disease Kill You?

Complications of gum disease

Untreated gum disease that progresses to periodontitis can lead to a variety of consequences, including: 

  • Abscesses of the gums (painful collections of pus) 
  • Gum recession 
  • Tooth loss 

The bacteria that cause gingivitis and periodontitis also migrate to blood vessels elsewhere in the body, causing inflammation and damage, leading to small blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes.

Avoiding and Preventing Gum Disease

Brushing your teeth for two minutes at least twice a day — in the morning and before bed — and flossing once a day is recommended.

Your dentist or dental hygienist should do cleanings every six to twelve months.

Gum health is also influenced by habits such as proper diet and blood sugar management if you have diabetes.

Treating Gum Disease

  1. Surgical - Bone grafts, Flap surgery, soft tissue grafts
  2. Non-surgical - antibiotics, scaling and root planning and oral hygiene
  3. Lifestyle and home remedies - Oil pulling, Salt, eucalyptus oil, green tea

Summary

Periodontitis, often known as gum disease, is a dangerous gum infection that affects the soft tissue and can eventually destroy the bone that supports your teeth if left untreated. Periodontitis can result in teeth loosening or tooth loss.  

References

  1. Treatments for gum disease [Internet]. WebMD. [cited 2022 Aug 22]. Available from: https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/gum-disease-treatments
  2. Sample share title [Internet]. [cited 2022 Aug 22]. Available from: https://www.corsodyl.co.uk/advice/how-to-treat-gum-disease/
  3. Gum disease symptoms and treatments [Internet]. [cited 2022 Aug 22]. Available from: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/mouth/gum-disease
  4. Gingivitis - Symptoms and causes [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. [cited 2022 Aug 22]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gingivitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20354453
  5. Periodontitis - Symptoms and causes [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. [cited 2022 Aug 22]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/periodontitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20354473
  6. Stages of periodontal disease [Internet]. Dental Associates of Marlborough. [cited 2022 Aug 22]. Available from: https://www.marlboroughdentistry.com/patient-info/stages-periodontal-disease/
  7. Stages of gum disease | eo perio - brisbane periodontists [Internet]. [cited 2022 Aug 22]. Available from: https://www.eoperio.com.au/gum-disease/stages
  8. Gum disease [Internet]. Oral Health Foundation. [cited 2022 Aug 22]. Available from: https://www.dentalhealth.org/gum-disease

Ankita Thakur

Postgraduate Degree, MSc. Biotechnology and Management, University of Glasgow
Experienced as a Healthcare Management Intern and Healthcare Writer.

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