Gum disease is extremely common in Australia, with as many as three in every 10 adults having moderate to severe gum disease.
This issue can be uncomfortable and very damaging for your oral and general health if left untreated, which is why you should take steps to avoid it as much as possible, and treat it as soon as it occurs to avoid further problems. This will help keep your smile healthy and happy, so you can get on with life.
If you have severe gum disease (also known as periodontal disease), your dentist or hygienist may recommend that you undergo gum surgery.
What is gum disease?
Periodontitis - commonly known as gum disease - is when the gums and tissues around your teeth become infected. It comes in two forms; gingivitis and periodontitis.
Gingivitis is both more common and more mild. This is when your gums become red and swollen, and you may even notice that they bleed a little when you’re brushing your teeth. The good news is that with good oral hygiene, brushing and flossing, you can reverse gingivitis and re-establish a healthy smile.
The second type is periodontitis, and this is basically an evolved version of gingivitis. Periodontitis occurs when gingivitis is left untreated, and can become quite serious. In this case, the red and infected gums of gingivitis get progressively worse to a point where the bone is damaged as well. Eventually, enough bone can be lost, that the teeth can get loose and sore, and may even need to be removed.
Unfortunately, periodontitis cannot be fully cured, only managed, so it is very important to avoid allowing gingivitis to reach that stage.
What causes gum disease?
Both forms of gum disease often stem from poor oral hygiene as plaque builds up on the teeth. Plaque is a sticky substance formed by bacteria that glues itself to your teeth and only comes off with good brushing and flossing, so if you’re not cleaning your teeth well enough or regularly enough, the plaque can start to irritate your gums, and will harden into a substance known as tartar that cannot be removed by brushing alone - only a dental professional can remove it. Tartar is even worse for your gums than plaque, and will continue to irritate them and make gum disease worse.
That said, there are numerous causes that can lead to gingivitis and periodontitis.
- Poor or irregular brushing and flossing
- Bad dietary habits such as excessive sugar intake
- Smoking and drug use
- Some medications
- Diabetes and some other conditions
- A genetic predisposition
Your dentist can help you to determine the cause of your gum disease, which may help you to avoid or manage issues.
How do I know if I have gum disease?
In many cases, you will notice your gums bleeding during brushing. Even if it’s just a little blood when you spit, this is often a sign of gingivitis. If you look a little closer, you may also notice that your gums are looking red and inflamed.
However, your dentist may also be the first to notice gum disease during a routine dental check-up. While a dentist will always inspect your teeth, they will also keep an eye on your gums and tongue to look for any irregularities or signs of disease, and suggest immediate measures to treat the issue.
If you think you may have gum disease, immediately start to practice good oral health with brushing and flossing twice per day, and avoid sugary foods and drinks. Also call your dentist for advice, as they may want you to come in for a check-up and a dental clean to help eradicate the issue before it can get any worse.
How does a gum disease treatment work?
If you have gingivitis, the good news is that you will likely only need to take better care of your teeth and gums at home with brushing, flossing, and an improved diet. Your dentist may also have you make a cleaning appointment so they can help by removing any built-up plaque.
However if you have periodontitis, this condition is not curable, so your treatment plan will move to one of managing the symptoms and avoiding further damage as much as possible.
The first treatment for periodontitis is usually to have a very deep and thorough clean. This is usually done with anaesthetic, because cleaning under the gums can be painful.
If this is unsuccessful, the next treatment for periodontitis is gum surgery. This surgery is designed to reduce or remove the gaps that occur between your teeth and your gums when the bone shrinks away.
During the surgery, your dentist and periodontist will make small incisions in your gum to form a flap. This will provide access to the infected gum tissue which will then be removed, and the periodontist will employ tooth-scaling and root-planning methods to remove any existing plaque or bacteria below the gum line.
The gums will be secured back in place using dissolvable stitches, and your dental professional will make a follow-up appointment with you for 7-10 days later to check how you are healing.
This surgery is performed under local anaesthetic by a periodontist or dentist, depending on the procedure. You will need to notify your surgeon of any existing medications or health conditions as this may impact the recommended procedure.
For more details, please visit your local National Dental Care practice and one of our dentists will provide advice appropriate for your specific condition.
How much does a gum disease treatment cost?
Non-Surgical treatment of Periodontitis costs between $300 and $2500 depending on how many teeth need to be treated. Periodontal surgery - also known as flap surgery - can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000, depending on the extent of the damage and other factors.
In some cases, your periodontist or dentist may recommend a tissue graft or bone graft to replace lost tissue or bone, which can also greatly add to the cost of surgery. A single graft can cost between $600 and $1,200.
Be sure to check with your health insurance provider, as some plans will help to cover costs of periodontal surgery.
What to expect from your gum disease appointment!
If your dentist recommends basic periodontal surgery, they will talk you through the process so you know what to expect.
Here’s the general process for gum surgery:
- You may be asked to stop or change medications in the week or two prior to surgery
- You may be given antibiotics to start taking prior to surgery
- Before the surgery, you will be given a local anaesthetic to numb the area, but your oral surgeon may recommend twilight anaesthesia or full general anaesthesia depending on your condition
- Your surgeon will make small cuts into your gums
- They will then remove plaque and bacteria from below the gum line to clean the infected areas
- They will then stitch your gums back in place
- The surgery usually takes two hours or so to complete
- Your round of antibiotics will likely continue after the surgery to ward off infection
- The days after your surgery your gums will be quite tender, and your surgeon will prescribe or advise which pain medication is best
- You will return for a follow up appointment to check on your recovery and remove stitches (if they did not use dissolvable stitches)
Recovering after gum surgery
The severity of your gum disease, the procedure you've had, and your overall health will ultimately determine your recovery.
In many cases, over-the-counter pain relief should be adequate to manage pain post-surgery, however, your dentist may request for you to take additional medication, depending on your personal circumstances, such as antibiotics or a special mouthwash.
Many dentists also recommend consuming only soft foods for a few weeks after surgery and an ice pack to reduce swelling (if any). If prolonged bleeding or severe swelling occurs after surgery, contact your periodontist or dentist immediately.
If you are concerned about your gums, don’t hesitate to speak to a dentist or arrange for a check-up.
Find your nearest dental practice and get in touch today to schedule an appointment.