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 disease.
There are two types of gum disease:
- Gingivitis (say "jin-juh-VY-tus") is 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 that 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.