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Gum disease
Gum disease

Most adults in the UK have gum disease a common condition where the gums become swollen, sore or infected. It is much less common in children.

The early stage of gum disease is known as gingivitis. If you have gingivitis, your gums may bleed when you brush your teeth and you may have bad breath.

Gingivitis is reversible by effective cleaning of gums.

If gingivitis is not controlled, a condition called periodontitis can develop. This results in loss of the bone which supports the teeth. It can lead to some tooth movement and wider gaps between teeth. The teeth can become loose and may eventually fall out.

Read more about the symptoms of gum disease.

What causes gum disease?

Gum disease is caused by a build-up of plaque on the teeth. Plaque is a sticky substance that contains bacteria. Some bacteria in plaque are harmless, but some are very harmful for the health of your gums, particularly those bacteria which like undisturbed dental plaque.

If you do not remove plaque from your gums when you clean your teeth it is more likely that harmful bacteria will persist and multiply. This can lead to redness with bleeding, swelling and soreness and loss of bony support.

How can I manage risk of gum disease?

If you notice bleeding when you brush your teeth, have red inflamed looking gums where your teeth emerge, have painful gums or have noticed a developing gap between your teeth then you may have a gum problem.

Please be aware that during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, routine dental care has stopped. Only contact your dental practice or your Health Board’s normal urgent dental care telephone number if you have a dental emergency.

When routine dental services resume, you should make an appointment to see your dentist if your gums are painful, swollen or bleed when you brush your teeth. If you have gum disease, they may recommend that you visit regularly for treatment.

In the meantime there are things that you can do. Mild cases of gum disease can usually be treated by maintaining a good level of oral hygiene. This includes gently brushing your teeth, including where the teeth meet the gums, at least twice a day and flossing regularly.

Healthy gums should be pink, firm and keep your teeth securely in place. Your gums shouldn't bleed when you touch or brush them. If they do bleed that is a sign you need to improve your cleaning of your gums

Advanced symptoms

If gingivitis is untreated, the tissues and bone that support the teeth can also become affected. This is known as periodontitis, or periodontal disease.

Symptoms of periodontitis can include:

  • bad breath (halitosis)
  • an unpleasant  taste in your mouth
  • loose teeth that can make eating difficult
  • gum abscesses (collections of pus forming under your gums or teeth)

If you have any of the above symptoms you will need dental care when coronavirus is passed. In the meantime you should clean your teeth and gums as well as you can including cleaning between the teeth (using floss and/or other interdental cleaning aids). Antiseptic mouthwashes containing chlorhexidine or hexetidine are available over the counter from pharmacies. Stopping smoking can help to improve gum health.

If your gums result in severe pain you should call your dental practice for advice. If you do not have a regular dentist, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47 or 111 if available in your area.

Acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG)

In rare cases, a condition called acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG) can develop suddenly.

The symptoms of ANUG are usually more severe than those of gum disease and can include:

  • bleeding, painful gums
  • painful ulcers
  • receding gums in between your teeth
  • bad breath
  • a metallic taste in your mouth
  • excess saliva in your mouth
  • difficulty swallowing or talking
  • a high temperature (fever)

As well as the oral hygiene advice given above, ANUG may require painkillers and antibiotics. Try a painkiller such as Paracetamol (following packet instructions). Do not take Ibuprofen if you have confirmed COVID-19 (coronavirus) or if you believe you have COVID-19 as there is currently a lack of clarity regarding its safety in patients with COVID-19.

If your gums are continuing to worsen and the pain cannot be managed with painkillers, contact your dental practice by telephone. If you don’t have a regular dentist, click here to find a dentist or contact NHS 111 Wales if available in your area or 0845 46 47 for advice on how to arrange urgent advice.


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The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS UK NHS website
Last Updated: 06/05/2020 12:16:21