If you have a toothache – that searing pain that makes you want to scream – you’d call the dentist right away. You’d cancel anything on your calendar to get that toothache taken care of right away.

But when you brush your teeth, and there’s a bit of blood in the sink … do you phone the dentist’s office with same urgency?

Most people would say no, but the truth is, they should. That “pink in the sink” can be the first sign of a troubling, painful and expensive problem – gingivitis, or gum disease.

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, about 80 percent of adults have some form of gum disease.

“So many people tell us their gums bleed every time they brush and they just don’t think anything’s wrong,” says Dr. James A. Wells, D.D.S., of South Charlotte Dentistry.

Gum disease starts with gingivitis, which can be caught early and successfully treated. But left untreated, as it often is, it will result in peridonitis, a serious disease that is expensive to treat and affects not only teeth and gums, but can result in tissue and gum loss as well, Wells says.

Untreated gum disease has been linked to an increased risk for stroke, diabetes and coronary artery disease too.

Untreated gum disease can cause teeth to fall out because the bone and tissue around the gum erodes. Wells compares it to a beach house with a foundation that gets washed away. Without the foundation, the house falls apart. The primary contributing factor for gum disease is bad dental habits, Wells says. And because in the beginning stages, gum disease doesn’t cause a lot of pain, it’s easy to ignore.

“We have patients who come in gums that are fire-engine red,” Wells says, “and they say they didn’t realize anything was wrong.”

About 90 percent of patients who have gum disease don’t know it, Wells adds.

Without treatment, gingivitis can turn into periodontal disease. For that to be treated, infection that causes pain and swelling must first be treated. That may involve root scaling and planing, a procedure in which cleaning is done between the gums and teeth down into the roots. After scaling and planing, a dedicated regimen of good dental hygiene can bring the gums back to healthy condition. If the gum disease is too advanced, surgery, which is “very expensive and very uncomfortable” may be required, Wells says.

If you’re experiencing bleeding while brushing and flossing, don’t put it off. Make an appointment today.

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