Gum disease (periodontal disease) is an infection of the tissues and bones that surround and support the teeth. Gum disease can vary from mild (gingivitis), which causes the gums to bleed easily when brushed, to severe (periodontitis), in which the bones that support the teeth are damaged and which can lead to tooth loss.
Gum disease occurs when the bacteria that are present in plaque are allowed to accumulate on and around the teeth and gums. Smoking or using spit tobacco greatly increases a person's risk for gum disease.
Treatment for gingivitis includes improved brushing and flossing at home and regular cleanings by a dentist or dental hygienist. For periodontitis, the dentist will use a method called root planing and scaling that removes plaque and tartar buildup both above and below the gum line. Antibiotics may be needed to help get rid of the infection. If gum disease is severe, surgery may be required.
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise