Gum problems are certainly something you would rather avoid. And yet, although there are ways to reduce your risk – following an oral care routine and seeing your dentist, for example – it can't always be prevented. Fortunately, treatments are available for both early gum problems and more advanced disorders, such as periodontal problems, an abscess or pericoronitis.
About 50% of adults over the age of 30 have some type of gum problem, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This can include mild gum problems, or an advanced case of periodontitis. According to the South African Dental Association (SADA), 5-20% of middle-aged adults have severe periodontal disease, which may result in tooth loss. Gum problems are only fully reversible in the early stages, but treatment is available for any level of severity; the type of care that's right for a patient depends on how advanced the problem is. Typically, a dentist will start with the least invasive form of treatment and only use a more involved process when necessary.
Deep cleaning, which involves scaling and root planing, is often the first type of treatment considered. The dentist or dental hygienist scales the teeth and removes tartar from above and below the gumline. If there is gum recession during this procedure, the root surface is also scaled; this is referred to as root planing. Plaque germs and food debris are less able to cling to smoothed root surfaces. Although deep cleaning may clear the problem for some patients, others may need a course of antibiotics to completely eliminate the germs causing the condition.
Some cases may require surgery, particularly if the gum problem has caused your gums to start pulling away (receding) from your teeth and you have periodontal pockets that lead to bone loss. Surgical treatments can reduce the size of the pockets formed between the teeth and the gums, so that germs have no place to hide. If you have receding gums, a periodontist may perform gum graft surgery to cover up the exposed root surfaces, improve the look of your smile, and help reduce your risk of further problems.
In some cases, periodontal disease can lead to a type of dental abscess known as a periodontal abscess. Where some abscesses occur in the tooth, a periodontal abscess develops in the gums; it often appears as a red, swollen lesion on the gum line. Should you feel a sudden, sharp pain in your gums, a visit to the dentist is recommended, as an abscess must be treated as soon as possible. Treating the gum infection in this situation usually involves draining the abscess and deep cleaning the area. Antibiotics can also ensure the problem is fully cleared.
In the event of a tooth abscess, a lesion may also develop on the gums. A tooth abscess is caused by a cavity, not by gum problems. Quick treatment is still needed, usually in the form of antibiotics, to reduce the pain and save the tooth.
Some types of gum problems can develop when a tooth (usually a wisdom tooth) tries to erupt, but becomes stuck or impacted. A small flap then forms over the trapped tooth. If food becomes lodged under this gum flap, germs can soon follow, leading to a condition called pericoronitis.
Treatment options for pericoronitis range from rinsing the gums with salt water to removing any trapped food or debris. A course of antibiotics can help kill any lingering germs, and regular brushing and flossing will keep the problem from recurring. Removing the impacted wisdom teeth prevents the problem from coming back and keeps other wisdom tooth-related issues at bay.
A clean mouth is less susceptible to gum and tooth problems. Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing daily will help avoid gum problems. Regular visits to your dentist are also essential to identify and treat small issues before they become big problems.