What do unhealthy gums look like?

By Dr Anthony Hua

Usually, with the first sign of gum redness, bleeding gums or gum ulcers, your first reaction is to run to your dentist. But what if your gum problem has something to do with your lifestyle instead?

Periodontal disease is the term associated with severe gum disease. This is when infections and inflammation in the gums and bone are present, and along with tooth decay, gum disease is one of the biggest threats to your oral health. It often starts as gingivitis, which is where gums can become swollen and red, but once it gets more serious, bone loss can occur, and the gums can pull away from the tooth and teeth can loosen and eventually fall out.

According to Australia’s Oral Health Tracker, a technical paper published in 2018 by the Australian Dental Association, almost 40 per cent of Australians aged 55 years or over suffer from moderate to severe periodontitis. So, the figures are alarming, but there can also be many lifestyle factors contributing to this. When you get these on track, it could drastically reduce your chances of getting periodontal disease in the first place.

Here is what to look out for and what else it could mean.

Red and Sore Gums

We know it is important to brush and floss daily, but you may have noticed that your gums are bleeding and sore and not healing very well. It may not necessarily mean you are brushing too hard or have poor oral hygiene; it could be a sign of a medical issue like type 2 diabetes. When people have diabetes, their gums do not heal as well, and their saliva can be high in glucose which fuels bacteria in the mouth. If your dentist suspects this could be the problem, they may recommend you see your doctor for blood tests and further assessment.

Very Pale Gums

It is commonly known that paleness can be associated with iron deficiency, especially in women. The haemoglobin in red blood cells gives blood its red colour, so low levels during iron deficiency make the blood less red. That is why skin can lose its healthy, rosy colour in people with iron deficiency.

A common test that can be helpful, is pulling your lower eyelid down and inspecting the colour of the inside layer, which should be a vibrant red colour. If it is a very pale pink or whitish colour, it can be a sign that you have an iron deficiency, and in severe cases, this will lead to anaemia requiring treatment from your doctor. Gums should be firm and pink, otherwise it is possible you could be deficient in iron or B12.

Swollen Gums

Dentists are trained to diagnose the difference between gums that are swollen due to poor oral hygiene and gums inflamed due to other reasons such as trauma. Often swelling can occur from a range of medications and reactions that can induce puffiness in the gums. When you visit your dentist, be sure to talk to them about any medications you are taking so they can make a better assessment of your oral health. Dentists often notice that medicines for epilepsy and high blood pressure can contribute to the presence of gum swelling.

Receding gums and a link to breast cancer

This heading might start making you feel anxious, and by no means does gum disease cause cancer, but there has been a great deal of research and findings suggesting there is a link.

Gum disease can also be associated with other conditions, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Research from the Breastcancer.org has found links between gum disease and oral, oesophageal, head and neck, pancreatic, and lung cancer, and suggested links between gum disease and breast cancer.

A study has found that postmenopausal women with gum disease were more likely to develop breast cancer than postmenopausal women who did not have gum disease. If the women had a history of smoking, the risk of breast cancer was even higher.

White spots on your gums

If you are worried about white spots on your gums, your dentist will be able to detect if it’s a lump or patch that could be as serious as a sign of oral cancer or something that is simply a sore and will go away on its own. Some of the most common types of spots are known as canker sores or mouth ulcers. They are usually triggered by an injury, dietary deficiency, bacteria, or stress. They will often go away within days to weeks, but if they persist for more than 14 days, you should see your dentist or doctor for a clinical assessment.

As we all know, prevention is better than cure. For the average adult, it is recommended that you have a check-up and hygiene appointment every six months to keep your teeth and gums in top shape. If you have any concerns about your gums or any dental health questions, contact us at Burleigh Dental Studio.

dr anthony huaArticle by Dr Anthony Hua – Principal Dentist

Dr Anthony Hua is the Founder & Principal Dentist at Burleigh Dental Studio. His passion, expertise and dedication to the field of dentistry have been recognised by his achievement of Fellowship status with the Australian Society of Implant Dentistry (ASID) and the International Congress of Oral Implantologists (ICOI).

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