Gum Disease - Topic Overview
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
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
- Loose teeth.
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
- 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.