Periodontal (Gum) Disease

It’s a thankless task being gums. Like the base of a trophy, they hold our teeth firmly and proudly, only for the fangs to take all of the limelight. ‘Wow, what a great set of gums you have’ is a compliment that is all too rare.

But having great gums is just as important as having great teeth; perhaps even more so, as you won’t even have teeth without healthy gums. Gum tissues, known as periodontium, surround and support the teeth, keeping your pearly whites healthy, happy and safe. But what if your teeth’s protector has fallen ill?

Types of Periodontal Disease

Periodontal (gum) disease is thought to affect around 20% of Australian adults, and is the most common cause of tooth loss. It ranges from the very common and often very mild Gingivitis; a periodontal disease with minimal symptoms, right through Periodontitis; a far more advanced and serious condition, which can result in the permanent loss of teeth. Rather than being two separate diseases, Periodontitis simply represents a progression of Gingivitis – the disease’s next degree of severity.

The symptoms associated with Gingivitis commonly include:

  • Swollen or discoloured gums
  • Tender and painful gums
  • Gums that easily bleed from brushing or flossing
  • Bad breath (halitosis)

If your Gingivitis has advanced to Periodontitis, on top of the normal indicators of Gingivitis, you may experience other symptoms, such as:

  • Extreme susceptibility to bleeding (e.g. when biting into fruit)
  • A persistent metallic taste in the mouth
  • Gum recession, with your teeth appearing to lengthen
  • Deep pockets between the gums and teeth
  • Loosened teeth

Reading that list, it’s fair to say that you’d be wise to steer clear of Periodontitis at all costs. But how?

A Gum-Friendly Diet

Periodontal disease is most commonly a response from your gums to plaque, a naturally occurring bacteria biofilm that grows on the surface of the mouth. If you allow plaque growth to get out-of-hand, it can begin to inflame the gum tissue, leading to the symptoms outlined above. Plaque-induced Gingivitis is the most common form of periodontal disease, but thankfully, it is also generally the easiest to treat.

It’s obvious that if you’ve got a diet that is plaque friendly, you’ve got a greater chance of developing Gingivitis. So, what does plaque love?

If I said kale and whole wheat, I’d be lying to you. No; as always, the finger is pointed firmly at sweet and acidic treats.

Plaque feeds on sugars, converting them to acids that, in turn, aggravate the gums. If your diet includes things that are both sugary and acidic, such as soft drinks and fruit juices, then this double attack on your periodontal tissue will have you buying yourself a one-way ticket to Gingivitis station. Unsweet foods that are nonetheless high in simple carbohydrates, such as pastas and breads, can also promote plaque growth, as these carbs can easily be broken down into sugars for the plaque to feed on.

Eating and drinking these types of things in moderation, and staying entirely away from treats that just sit in your mouth (such as lollipops and ice-blocks), can help keep plaque – and subsequently, periodontal disease – away. Saliva is an active plaque suppressant, so chewing fibrous fruit and vegetables to promote saliva production will also help your gums.

If you combine the right diet with a good oral hygiene routine – brushing twice a day, flossing regularly, using mouthwash – you’ll minimise your vulnerability to gum disease. And, if you do start developing the symptoms of Gingivitis, this routine will soon get your gums back on track.

If some of the symptoms mentioned here feel familiar to you, be sure to book a check-up with your dentist. They’ll be best placed to relieve the discomfort, and make sure that you keep every one of those beautiful teeth.

Gums have a thankless task, but they do it with aplomb. The best way you can show your gratitude is to simply make sure that you take care of them.