Emergency Dentist: Knowing When to Call

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When Gingivitis Becomes Acute

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Have you ever had gingivitis? It's fairly likely that you have at some point since close to a third of Australians experience the condition in any given year. It's a strange condition in that while your gums bleed easily (even if you barely touch them), it doesn't exactly cause pain or even discomfort. Acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis (called ANUG) is another matter entirely.

Without Warning

ANUG can be quite disturbing. It can develop seemingly without warning. It feels like, unknown to you, your immune system has been keeping a serious dental infection at bay until your immune system suddenly loses the battle. Your gums will become inflamed and can be very painful. It's generally this pain that compels patients to see their dentist.

A Professional Diagnosis

And you must see your dentist if you suspect that your gingival condition is in fact ANUG. Some people may wait and see, and then are pleasantly surprised when their symptoms miraculously disappear. ANUG can vanish as quickly as it appeared, leading to a false sense of security. The bacterial infection that triggered your ANUG has merely temporarily retreated. It will be back, possibly with greater force—leading to a cycle of infections with fleeting periods of peace, until you seek treatment.


Although a dentist may treat many forms of periodontal disease themselves, the diseases and conditions which affect a tooth's supporting structure (such as your gums, soft tissues and jaw bone) have their own specialised field, known as periodontics. Depending on the seriousness of your ANUG, you might be referred to a periodontist for treatment. ANUG can be quite serious indeed. If untreated, the supporting structures of your teeth may deteriorate, which can be quite obvious to see and may require surgical intervention.

Specialist Treatment

Treatment involves the removal of any plaque and tartar (or calcified plaque) on your teeth. This helps to manage the influx of oral bacteria that is attacking your gums. This is often sufficient to reverse standard gingivitis, but ANUG requires more intensive treatment. You may need antibiotics to control your infection. Dead gum tissue (which is often a result of ANUG) must also be removed. This loss of tissue can expose the roots of your teeth, meaning you will need to have these tissues replaced via gum grafting (the manual addition of replacement tissue to your gums). 

The signs of ANUG should not be ignored, even when the symptoms have temporarily retreated. Failure to seek treatment can have devastating consequences for your oral health.