As explained in our introduction to gum diseases, there are a variety of symptoms we should all be aware of that may point towards this common problem. This article will point out the more common signs to watch for.
It is important to be vigilant in terms of possible gingivitis and periodontitis, as the problem may be symptomless for a long time. So don’t presume that all is well even if you have none of these listed symptoms – always get regular check-ups with your dentist.
1. Red Gums
Ethnic variations notwithstanding, the color of gum tissue should generally be some shade of pink. Healthy gums may vary from light pink to darker pink. However, in general, the redder the gums get the more likely it is to indicate that severe infection is present. In more advanced cases gums have even been seen to turn a deep crimson or purple color. This is a sign of severe, chronic (long-term) infection. In this case, the loss of one or multiple teeth is likely. Swelling and bleeding are usually associated with redness or discoloration of any kind.[A special note for SMOKERS. A smoker (tobacco or otherwise) can have advanced to severe gum disease with little-to-no redness of the gums. This is because the poisonous smoke inhaled on a regular basis essentially starves the gums of oxygen by damaging or destroying the sensitive capillaries in the mouth. Without sufficient oxygen supply the gums will stay light pink (giving the appearance of health) despite the presence of severe gum disease and infection.]
2. Swollen Gums
In general, gums should have a very “tight” or “flat” appearance. If you look closely you will even notice a surface resembling that of an orange peel. This is called ‘stippling’; it is how healthy gums maintain a strong connection to the skin layers below the surface and ultimately to the jawbone. When gums become infected, the stippling disappears because the body starts to introduce additional fluids to the area (such as blood) to help eradicate the invading bacteria.
This additional fluid swells the gum tissue. At this point, the stippling is no longer visible and a smooth, shiny and swollen appearance can be observed. Swelling typically does increase as infection progresses. Redness and bleeding typically accompany this symptom. Read more on swollen gums here.[SMOKERS: Again, it is possible that due to lack of normal blood flow to the mouth a smoker can have severe periodontal disease without noticeable swelling.]
3. Bleeding Gums
HEALTHY GUMS DON’T BLEED! We put the previous sentence in all caps because it is very common for people to be in denial about the state of their gum health. Many people try to rationalize their bleeding gums by saying, “My gums always bleed when I brush and floss” or “It’s normal to have a little bleeding when eating hard crunchy foods”.
The truth is this: aside from some sort of trauma, healthy gums do not bleed under any circumstances. Bleeding (in the absence of trauma) is always a sign of infection. Redness and swelling are typically associated with bleeding gums. You will often notice a metal taste when there is blood in your mouth.[SMOKERS: At the risk of being repetitive, it should be noted that smokers may not experience bleeding at any point during the stages of gum disease due to lack of blood flow to the oral environment.]
Further reading: Top 10 Ways To Get Rid Of Bleeding Gums Once And For All!
4. Receding Gums (a.k.a. “long in the tooth”)
Receding gums, unlike receding hairlines, are not JUST a product of time (a.k.a. old age). It is a reflection of time + damage. That is to say, there are some 100 year olds with no recession and there are some 20-somethings with severe recession. It can be a result of mechanical trauma such as in the case of bruxism/grinding/maloclussion or infection/gum disease. Moderate to advanced recession is always associated with bone loss.
Recession can result in dental sensitivity due to the roots, which aren’t protected by enamel, being exposed.[SMOKERS and tobacco chewers may notice localized areas of recession where they routinely place their cigarettes or chew. The toxins from tobacco products directly inundating the local gum tissue cause this isolated damage.]
No matter the cause, it is important to recognize receding gums as a symptom of disease and at least arrest its progression or it can result in tooth loss.
5. Loose Teeth
Perhaps you have heard the expression: “you are only as strong as your weakest link”. Well, that is true of your teeth and gums as well. You see the teeth are not actually planted directly into your jawbone. There is a small band of gum tissue connecting the tooth to the jaw called the “periodontal ligament” or PDL for short. If your gums are sick then this important ligament may become weak or even begin to detach completely. At this point the teeth become loose or mobile – as the professionals say – and tooth loss is imminent.
If you are experiencing any noticeable change in the mobility or looseness of your teeth then you are well overdue for a dental visit. The teeth may also separate slightly and gradually causing a ‘splayed’ appearance. This is an advanced sign of gum disease and needs to be evaluated immediately!
6. Exudate (a.k.a. Pus)
Exudate or pus is a yellow/green viscous liquid that is present in certain cases of gum disease. It is not always present but when it is, it is always a result of infection and can cause strong malodors and even bad tastes. In many instances the pus may be deep below the gum tissue and only visible after manual pressure is applied to the area, making it one of the more difficult symptoms to identify.
7. Painful Gums
Gum disease is known as a “silent disease” because it is typically not a painful process. It is possible for some pain upon brushing or flossing to be present during the early to moderate stages of gum disease but it may not be present in advanced or severe cases. So, if painful gums suddenly start feeling better do not assume that this is a sign of improvement. It may actually be an indication that the disease has progressed to a more advanced stage.
Peristent or recurring ‘sores’ – Healthy gums do not traumatize easily and when they do, they typically heal quickly and without incident. On the other hand, diseased gums may experience delayed healing or chronic re-infection. Chronic mouth sores can be a symptom of gum disease but may be a sign of more serious problems and should be evaluated ASAP!
8. Persistent Malodor (a.k.a. halitosis, bad breath, dragon breath, stank breath, etc…)
Everyone has bad breath at some stage. Especially when you drink coffee, smoke or wake up in the morning. However, if your loved ones consistently complain about bad breath which cannot be improved by brushing, mouthwash or chewing gum, then it may be a sign of “perio breath”. This is a unique malodor that results from the anaerobic bacteria responsible for gum disease. It emanates from deep within the gums in the spaces around and between teeth. Since these areas cannot effectively be cleansed with home care methods it is necessary to see a dentist in order to resolve it.
9. Change in Bite
In advanced cases of gum disease the teeth can become loose and also shift position slightly. This results in a noticeable change in how your teeth come together during chewing. In turn, the trauma caused by this condition can exponentially increase the rate of bone loss. This is an extreme condition and needs professional attention immediately to prevent tooth loss.
10. Change in Fit of Partial and Full Dentures
There are various types of gum disease that can affect the fit and function of your dentures. In the case of partial dentures, it is possible for the remaining natural supportive teeth to become loose as a result of gum disease and therefore undermine the stability of the partial. Conversely, it is possible that an ill-fitting partial can exert enough pressure on a supportive natural tooth for it to become loose and therefore more vulnerable to gum infection. Frequent maintenance is essential for denture patients who want to avoid further loss of teeth thus resulting in the need for new partial dentures or perhaps even full dentures.
Other types of gum disease (especially fungal infections such as “oral thrush”) can affect people who already wear full dentures. Certain home care regimens along with routine visits to your dentist can help monitor and control the outbreak of these types of infections.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection that profoundly affects oral and overall health. Yes, you read that right; your mouth is actually connected to the rest of your body. This means that any infection present in the oral cavity drains into your vital organs via the blood stream, lymph system and interstitial space. Because of this connection, untreated gum disease can negatively affect and in some cases even play a causal role in other health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, respiratory diseases, some cancers and many more systemic diseases.
“But I just have a tiny bit of bleeding in a few isolated areas. It can’t be that serious” you might argue. Well, if you have ever thought that, then please consider this:
The surface area of your gum tissue is about equal to that of your hand. Imagine if your hand had a chronic, red, swollen, bloody infection! Do you think it would affect your overall health? How long would you ignore it before you seek medical attention? Would you believe your doctor when they tell you that it can complicate or even cause other health problems? The truth is that most people would seek immediate medical treatment if it was just their little finger that was infected, much less their whole hand. Why should we view our mouths any different?
If your gums show any of the above symptoms then it is likely that you are suffering from some form of gum disease. Don’t worry, you are not alone; the American Academy of Periodontology estimates that over 50% of American adults are in the same condition. The good news is that modern dental treatments are very successful at identifying and treating the problem. Once the infection is addressed (often times with a combination of dental treatments and medications) then it is up to you to maintain it with excellent home care and frequent hygiene appointments (usually every 90 days).
If that sounds like too much for you to chew on at the moment (pardon the pun), remember this:
Delaying treatment will only cause the necessary procedures to be MORE extensive and MORE expensive. Don’t wait! Take control of your gum health now!
Further reading: While there is absolutely no substitute for a professional examination of your mouth, this handy little tool will give a report on your risk of gum disease.