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Gum Disease - Topic Overview

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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.

There are two types of gum disease:

  • Gingivitis camera.gif (say "jin-juh-VY-tus") is mild gum disease that affects only the gums, the soft tissue that surrounds the teeth.
  • Periodontitis camera.gif (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, AIDS, or leukemia.
  • 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?

Healthy gums are pink and firm, fit snugly around the teeth, and do not bleed easily. Gingivitis causes:

  • Gums that are red, swollen, and tender.
  • 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 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.

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 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.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 04, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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