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
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
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
You are more likely to
get gum disease if you:
- Do not clean your teeth well.
- Smoke or chew
- Have someone in your family who has gum disease.
- Have a condition that makes it harder for your body to fight
infection, such as:
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
- 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
Bad breath that won't go away.
- Pus coming from
- A change in how your teeth fit together when you
- 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
- 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.