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Gum Disease - Topic Overview

dent_02.jpgWhat 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.

The two types of gum disease are called gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis (say "jin-juh-VY-tus") is mild gum disease that affects only the gums, the tissue that surrounds the teeth. Periodontitis (say "pair-ee-oh-don-TY-tus") is more severe gum disease that spreads below the gums to damage the tissues and bone that support the teeth.

  • Gingivitis causes red, swollen gums that bleed easily when the teeth are brushed. Because gingivitis usually doesn't cause pain, many people don't get the treatment they need.
  • Periodontitis causes the gums to pull away from the teeth, leaving deep pockets where germs called bacteria can grow and damage the bone that supports the teeth. Gums can also shrink back from the teeth. This can make the teeth look longer. Teeth may become loose, fall out, or have to be pulled out by a dentist.

What causes gum disease?

Your mouth constantly makes a clear, sticky substance called plaque that contains bacteria. The bacteria in plaque make poisons, or toxins, that irritate the gums and cause the gum tissues to break down. If you don't do a good job of removing plaque from your teeth, it can spread below the gums and damage the bone that supports the teeth. With time, the plaque hardens into a substance called tartar that has to be removed by a dentist or dental hygienist.

You are more likely to get gum disease if you:

  • Do not clean your teeth well.
  • Smoke or chew tobacco.
  • Have someone in your family who has gum disease.
  • Have a condition that makes it harder for your body to fight infection, such as:
    • Uncontrolled diabetes, AIDS, or leukemia.
    • A high level of stress.
    • A poor diet that's low in nutrients.

What are the symptoms?

It may be hard to tell if you have a mild case of gum disease. Healthy gums are pink and firm, fit snugly around the teeth, and do not bleed easily. But mild cases of gum disease (gingivitis) cause:

  • Gums that are red, swollen, and tender.
  • Gums that bleed easily during brushing or flossing.

In more severe gum disease (periodontitis), the symptoms are easier to see, such as:

  • Gums that pull away or shrink 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.

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.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 05, 2011
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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