What is gum disease?
Gum disease is an infection of the tissues and bones that surround and support the teeth. It is also called periodontal disease.
The two types of gum disease are called gingivitis and periodontitis. Reference Gingivitis Opens New Window Reference Opens New Window (say "jin-juh-VY-tus") is mild gum disease that affects only the gums, the tissue that surrounds the teeth. Reference Periodontitis Opens New Window Reference Opens New Window (say "pair-ee-oh-don-TY-tus") is more severe gum disease that spreads below the gums to damage the tissues and bone that support the teeth.
- Gingivitis causes red, swollen gums that bleed easily when the teeth are brushed. Because gingivitis usually doesn't cause pain, many people don't get the treatment they need.
- Periodontitis causes the gums to pull away from the teeth, leaving deep pockets where germs called bacteria can grow and damage the bone that supports the teeth. Gums can also shrink back from the teeth. This can make the teeth look longer. Teeth may become loose, fall out, or have to be pulled out by a dentist.
What causes gum disease?
Your mouth constantly makes a clear, sticky substance called Reference plaque Opens New Window that contains bacteria. The bacteria in plaque make poisons, or toxins, that irritate the gums and cause the gum tissues to break down. If you don't do a good job of removing plaque from your teeth, it can spread below the gums and damage the bone that supports the teeth. With time, the plaque hardens into a substance called tartar that has to be removed by a dentist or Reference dental hygienist Opens New Window.
You are more likely to get gum disease if you:
- Do not clean your teeth well.
- Smoke or chew tobacco.
- Have someone in your family who has gum disease.
- Have a condition that makes it harder for your body to fight infection, such as:
What are the symptoms?
It may be hard to tell if you have a mild case of gum disease. Healthy gums are pink and firm, fit snugly around the teeth, and do not bleed easily. But mild cases of gum disease (gingivitis) cause:
- Gums that are red, swollen, and tender.
- Gums that bleed easily during brushing or flossing.
In more severe gum disease (periodontitis), the symptoms are easier to see, such as:
- Gums that pull away or shrink from the teeth.
- Bad breath that won't go away.
- Pus coming from the gums.
- A change in how your teeth fit together when you bite.
- Loose teeth.
How is gum disease diagnosed?
To find out if you have gum disease, your dentist or dental hygienist will do an exam to look for:
- Bleeding gums.
- Hard buildups of plaque and tartar above and below the gums.
- Areas where your gums are pulling away or shrinking from your teeth.
- Pockets that have grown between your teeth and gums.
Your dentist or dental hygienist may take X-rays of your teeth to look for bone damage and other problems.
How is it treated?
If you have a mild case of gum disease, you will probably be able to take care of it by brushing and flossing your teeth every day and getting regular cleanings at your dentist's office.
If your gum disease has become worse and you have periodontitis, your dentist or dental hygienist will clean your teeth using a method called root planing and scaling. This removes the plaque and tartar buildup both above and below the gum line. You may also need to take Reference antibiotics Opens New Window to help get rid of the infection in your mouth. If your gum disease is severe, you may need to have surgery.
How can you prevent gum disease?
Gum disease is most common in adults, but it can affect anyone, even children. So good dental habits are important throughout your life:
- Brush your teeth 2 times a day, in the morning and before bedtime, with a fluoride toothpaste.
- Floss your teeth once each day.
- Visit your dentist for regular checkups and teeth cleaning.
- Don't use tobacco products.
If you think you have a mild case of gum disease, make sure to take care of it before it gets worse. Keeping your teeth and gums healthy and getting regular checkups from your dentist can keep the disease from getting worse.
Having gum disease may increase a pregnant woman's risk of having a premature, low-birth-weight baby.Reference 1 Also, studies have found a direct link between heart disease and the bacteria that cause gum disease.Reference 2 So taking good care of your teeth and gums may have benefits beyond keeping your mouth healthy.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about gum disease:
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: Reference August 5, 2011|
|Medical Review:||Reference Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Reference Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Reference Steven K. Patterson, BS, DDS, MPH - Dentistry