Gum disease is an infection of the tissues
and bones that surround and support the teeth. It is also called periodontal
There are two types of gum disease:
Gingivitis (say "jin-juh-VY-tus") is mild gum disease
that affects only the gums, the soft tissue that surrounds the teeth.
Periodontitis (say "pair-ee-oh-don-TY-tus") is more severe. It spreads below the gums to damage the tissues and
bone that support the teeth.
What causes gum disease?
Gum disease is
caused by the growth of germs called bacteria on the teeth and gums. Bacteria are present in
plaque, a clear, sticky substance your mouth produces.
The bacteria in plaque feed on sugars in the
foods you eat and drink and make poisons (toxins) and other
chemicals. The toxins irritate your gums, causing them to swell and
bleed easily when brushed.
In time, plaque can harden into a buildup
called calculus or tartar. This irritates the gums even more and causes them to
pull away from your teeth.
Things that make you more likely to
get gum disease include:
Not cleaning your teeth well at home and not getting regular dental cleanings.
Smoking or chewing tobacco. People who use tobacco are much more likely to get gum disease than those who don't. They also have more serious
gum disease that leads to tooth loss and is hard to treat.
Having gum disease in your family.
Having a problem that weakens your immune system, such as a high stress level or a disease like diabetes,
Eating a diet that is low in vitamins and minerals,
which can weaken your immune system, or high in sugary foods and carbohydrates, which help plaque grow.
What are the symptoms?
gums are pink and firm, fit snugly around the teeth, and do not bleed easily.
Gums that are red, swollen, and
Gums that bleed easily during brushing or flossing.
Gingivitis usually isn't painful, so you may not
notice the symptoms and may not get the treatment you need.
In periodontitis, the symptoms are
easier to see, such as:
Gums that pull away from the
Bad breath that won't go away.
Pus coming from
A change in how your teeth fit together when you
If you think you have gum disease, see your dentist right away. Early treatment can keep it from getting worse..
How is gum disease diagnosed?
To find out if you have gum disease, your dentist or dental hygienist will do an exam to look
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?
Early treatment of
gum disease is very important. It can help prevent permanent gum damage, control
infection, and prevent tooth loss. For treatment to work:
Brush your teeth 2 times a day and floss
1 time a day.
See your dentist regularly for checkups and
Don't smoke or use any tobacco products.
For gingivitis, your dentist may
antibiotics to help fight the infection. They can be
put directly on the gums, swallowed as pills or capsules, or swished around your teeth as mouthwash. Your dentist may also recommend an antibacterial
toothpaste that reduces plaque and gingivitis when used regularly.
periodontitis, your dentist or dental hygienist may 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 need surgery if
these treatments don't control the infection or if you have severe
damage to your gums or teeth. Surgery options include:
Gingivectomy to get rid of the pockets
between the teeth and gums where plaque can build up.
flap procedure to clean the roots of a tooth and
repair bone damage.
Extraction to remove loose or very
After surgery, you may need to take antibiotics or other medicines to aid healing and prevent infection.
After treatment, keep your mouth
disease-free by brushing and flossing to prevent plaque buildup. Your dentist will
probably prescribe an antibacterial mouthwash.
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 once each
Visit your dentist for regular checkups and teeth
Don't use tobacco products.
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The American Academy of Periodontology is an association of dental
professionals specializing in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of
diseases affecting the gums and the supporting structures of the teeth. The
Academy's purpose is to advocate, educate, and set standards that advance the
periodontal and general health of the public and promote excellence in the
practice of periodontics. The Academy publishes the Journal of Periodontology.
The Web site includes consumer information on gum disease and its
treatment as well as a section on the latest research.
American Dental Association
211 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611-2678
The American Dental Association (ADA), the professional
membership organization of practicing dentists, provides information about oral
health care for children and adults. The ADA can also help you find a dentist
in your area.
KidsHealth for Parents, Children, and
Nemours Home Office
10140 Centurion Parkway
Jacksonville, FL 32256
This website is sponsored by the Nemours Foundation. It
has a wide range of information about children's health—from allergies and
diseases to normal growth and development (birth to adolescence). This website
offers separate areas for kids, teens, and parents, each providing
age-appropriate information that the child or parent can understand. You can
sign up to get weekly emails about your area of interest.
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892-2190
The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)
is a governmental agency that provides information about oral, dental, and
craniofacial health. By conducting and supporting research, the NIDCR aims to
promote health, prevent diseases and conditions, and develop new diagnostics
Famili P, et al. (2007). The effect of androgen deprivation therapy on periodontal disease in men with prostate cancer. Journal of Urology, 177(3): 921–924.
Hodges KO (2009). Periodontal diseases. In NO Harris et al., eds., Primary Preventive Dentistry, 7th ed., pp. 46–66. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Robinson PG, et al. (2005). Manual versus powered toothbrushing for oral health. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2). Oxford: Update Software.
Task Force on Periodontal Treatment of Pregnant Women (2004). American Academy of Periodontology statement regarding periodontal management of the pregnant patient. Journal of Periodontology, 75(3): 495.
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