Reddened and itchy gums are, in many cases, symptoms of periodontitis (gum disease). My team and I have gathered information from dental care professionals to explain better this condition and how it can severely impact our oral health.
What is periodontitis?
Periodontitis is an inflammatory disease that affects the tissues around the tooth (which is called periodontium).
If not diagnosed and treated early, it can lead to tooth loss and, in some cases, affect the overall health of the person who has it.
Depending on whether the affectation is more superficial or deeper, we speak of gingivitis or periodontitis.
- Gingivitis: is a superficial inflammation of the gum. Bleeding is its main warning sign, and if it is not treated properly, it can progress to periodontitis.
- Periodontitis: is a deeper infection of the gum, which detaches from the tooth, forming the periodontal pockets. Due to this infection, the bone that holds the tooth is lost.
These gum diseases normally evolve without pain, silently, and don’t become really evident until they reach very advanced stages (for example, itchy gums is a common symptom), so an early diagnosis is essential.
What are the causes?
Gum diseases or periodontal diseases are produced by bacteria’s action, more than 700 types, which usually live in the mouth.
These are deposited on the teeth, gums, and even on the restorations (reconstructions of portions of teeth).
On many occasions, oral hygiene is incorrect, incomplete, or insufficient, which causes bacteria to grow, group together, and accumulate in the form of biofilm or bacterial plaque in hidden areas, mainly in the spaces between teeth.
Also, the gum grooves and dental fissures on the molars’ chewing surface are protected spaces where bacteria take shelter from the action of the tongue, saliva, and toothbrush filaments.
Besides, there are many other factors linked to this disease, such as:
- Systemic diseases, such as diabetes
- Low defenses
- Hormonal changes, such as those that occur during pregnancy or menopause
Therefore, the progression of periodontal diseases and the severity of the destruction of oral tissues will be conditioned by genetic risk factors and the presence of one or more of these environmental factors.
What are the symptoms of periodontitis besides itchy gums?
The main and first sign that alerts that something is happening is bleeding gums, spontaneous or during brushing, and redness. Note that gum bleeding is not normal.
In addition, there may be:
- Bad breath
- Hypersensitivity to cold
- Receding gums or perception of longer teeth
- Mobility or teeth separation
The appearance of abscesses or gum lumps if the disease continues to progress, as the latter is already a manifestation of periodontitis in an advanced stage.
However, in people who smoke, the disease is usually diagnosed later, as smoking reduces blood flow, so sometimes bleeding gums do not appear until more advanced stages of the disease.
Therefore, it is convenient that smokers pay special attention to their gums’ health and try to quit smoking since people who smoke have up to three times more risk of suffering from periodontitis.
All of them will help you identify the problem, solve any doubts you may have, and advise you on the most suitable treatment.
What complications can arise besides bleeding and itchy gums?
Periodontitis also affects the general state of your health. There is scientific evidence of this disease’s relationship with increased vascular risk, decompensation of diabetes, respiratory infections, or even premature birth.
Diabetes and periodontitis have an important bidirectional relationship, and if not controlled together, they can become counterproductive for good health and a better life.
Like any other infectious pathology, periodontitis alters the metabolic-endocrine state of people.
Thus, a diabetic patient is at greater risk of suffering from periodontitis, which can initiate or increase insulin resistance, as demonstrated by multiple scientific studies, complicating or making it difficult to control glycemia.
Also, periodontitis destroys the tissue that supports the teeth, causing bone resorption, and producing changes in immunocompetent cells and others involved in preventing inflammation.
People with diabetes also suffer a reduction in saliva flow, which leads to the appearance of a greater accumulation of dental plaque and, therefore, tooth decay, infections, and periodontal diseases.
Also, they are more susceptible to infections in general and periodontitis, particularly due to tissue resistance to the action of insulin and vascular changes. Proper glucose levels will better control these infections.
Periodontitis is a risk factor for the development of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
Atherosclerosis is a fundamentally inflammatory disease. It has been proven that uncontrolled infectious or inflammatory foci, such as those caused by periodontitis, cause it to progress and can even trigger more acute processes, such as severe coronary syndromes.
When there is untreated periodontitis, there can be a release of bacteria, toxins, and other inflammatory elements into the bloodstream that can cause problems in other parts of the body.
These elements in the coronary arteries trigger a blockage process, increasing the risk of a heart attack.
Likewise, both diseases share modifiable risk factors (smoking or obesity, among others) that are associated with lifestyle.
Therefore, in the context of a comprehensive periodontal therapy, it would be very positive about integrating programs to help patients stop smoking and advise on possible lifestyle modifications: diet and exercise, which would improve both general health and that of the gums.
How are bleeding and itchy gums treated?
The dentist is a professional who has the training to diagnose and treat gum problems and advise on preventive measures to help keep the gum in optimal health conditions.
A dentist can also take care of the reconstruction of tissues lost as a result of the disease.
Treatment is based on three pillars:
- The basic phase of gum treatment includes scaling and root planing (manual cleaning under the gums) and teaching specific hygiene instructions and their compliance.
- In certain cases, it is necessary to move on to the second phase of treatment in which small gum surgeries are necessary to correct the defects that the disease may have left.
- Finally, it is essential to follow a maintenance or follow-up program to prevent or control the possible appearance of relapses, even more so if the presence of the aforementioned risk factors persists.
In recent years, it has become clear that periodontics does not work in isolation to treat oral problems and that, increasingly, it is related to other areas of medicine, as well as to pharmaceutical work, since the relationship of oral health with health, in general, has been demonstrated.
Ten tips to prevent the appearance of periodontitis
General oral care and hygiene can condition our lives, almost without us realizing it. From a very young age, we should know their importance and practice them daily.
1. Brush your teeth every day
You should get into the habit of brushing your teeth every day; do it for two minutes and at least twice a day, paying special attention to nighttime brushing, which you should never forget.
And make sure your children adopt this habit too. If you notice itchy gums or redness on repeated ocasions, consult with your dentist.
2. Beyond the brush
In addition to daily brushing, it is advisable to use dental floss or some other interdental cleaning method, as brushing alone cannot reach all corners of your mouth.
Also brush your tongue every day, because bacteria are retained on its surface.
3. Reinforce the cleaning with the rinse
Complement the cleaning with a mouthwash if necessary and always following the recommendations of your dentist
4. Avoid certain foods
Sugar-rich foods, including carbonated soft drinks, don’t support oral health.
Bacteria that live in the mouth transform sugars into acids, and these, in turn, attack the tooth enamel and cause the appearance of cavities and other oral diseases.
5. Bet on other foods
Food can also help improve your oral health. We could say that some of the healthiest foods for your mouth are some fruits (blueberries, kiwi, grapes) and all those foods rich in unsaturated Omega 3 fats, such as bluefish (salmon, mackerel) and nuts (walnuts).
Also, drinks such as green tea, for its antioxidant properties.
6. Do not snack between meals
Not snacking between meals is healthy for your health, in general, and also for your oral health and even more so if after eating something, you cannot brush your teeth.
In particular, avoid sweets, pastries, industrial juices, and snacks because of their cariogenic potential. In any case, you can take natural fruit, such as apples, or a dairy product.
7. Take care of yourself if you are pregnant
If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, make an appointment with your dentist because, during these months, the changes your body will undergo can also affect your mouth, and bring about certain problems.
8. Maximum caution with certain diseases
Take special care of your oral health if you have diabetes or suffer from cardiovascular disease.
Scientific studies have shown the direct relationship between these two pathologies and periodontal problems.
9. Pay more attention if you have a genetic predisposition
In some cases, dental problems have hereditary factors. If this is your case, you should pay special attention to your teeth to prevent any hint of a problem from an early age and act appropriately and quickly.
10. Don’t fear the dentist
Prevention is the most effective measure against periodontitis. Thus, carrying out periodical check-ups and following good cleaning and oral care habits since childhood will help you to keep your teeth healthy and longer.
Gingivitis and itchy gums
We can all suffer from gum inflammation, but there are remedies to prevent this pathology and cure it.
Gingivitis is a generally bacterial mouth disease that causes inflammation, bleeding, and itchy gums caused by food debris trapped between the teeth.
Its origin has to do with the long-term effects of plaque deposits on the teeth (the sticky material composed of bacteria, mucus, and food residues accumulated on the teeth).
Plaque and tartar eventually irritate and inflame the gums, which also causes them to become more sensitive and cause bleeding.
However, the specific symptoms that will inform if you have gingivitis should be diagnosed by a professional, although they can be summarized as bleeding gums, itchy, redness, sensitivity to touch, mouth sores, inflammation, and pain.
In smokers, this sign is masked; that is to say, it is much less probable that the gums bleed even when having gingivitis since tobacco produces vasoconstriction.
Factors that predispose to gingivitis
There are a series of factors that favor the appearance of gingivitis. The main ones are the following:
- Deficient dental hygiene
- Hormonal changes due to puberty
- Hormonal changes due to pregnancy
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Misaligned teeth
- Use of certain medications such as phenytoin, bismuth, and some birth control pills
Good oral hygiene is the best way to prevent gingivitis, including daily brushing (at least three times after meals) and flossing.
Dental plaque forms on the surface of teeth, gums, restorations and can hardly be seen with the naked eye, although its consistency is soft, matte, yellow-white.
It varies from one individual to another, and its anatomical location also varies.
However, the term bacterial plaque is a term that is no longer in use, being replaced by the term oral biofilm; since today there is evidence that the microbial mass is not limited to forming only on the teeth and that it is composed of millions of microorganisms in well-organized communities.
When gingivitis appears, it is often not painful. Still, if left untreated, it can lead to periodontitis, a disease characterized by loss of collagenous insertion, gingival recession, and even bone loss.
If left untreated, it leaves the tooth without bone support. The loss of this support implies the irreparable loss of the tooth itself.
Once gingivitis is diagnosed, the mission of the dentist is to reduce the inflammation of the gums.
To do this, he or she will perform a professional oral cleaning procedure to remove the tartar:
- Ultrasound to remove tartar
- Prophylaxis paste to increase fluoride levels, improve cleaning, and remove stains
- Interproximal strips to improve hygiene in interdental spaces
The treatment may be complemented with antibacterial mouthwashes and chlorhexidine mouthwashes for one week.
If necessary, misaligned teeth will be repaired or braces replaced in subsequent sessions so that the predisposition to gingivitis is avoided.
Also, the dentist or oral hygienist will show the person the correct way to brush and floss.
Bleeding and itchy gums and sensitivity should decrease within one to two weeks after a professional cleaning and good oral hygiene at home.