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.
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.
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:
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:
In more severe gum disease (periodontitis), the symptoms are easier to see, such as:
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:
Your dentist or dental hygienist may take X-rays of your teeth to look for bone damage and other problems.
How is it treated?
If you have a mild case of gum disease, you will probably be able to take care of it by brushing and flossing your teeth every day and getting regular cleanings at your dentist's office.
If your gum disease has become worse and you have periodontitis, your dentist or dental hygienist will clean your teeth using a method called root planing and scaling. This removes the plaque and tartar buildup both above and below the gum line. You may also need to take antibiotics to help get rid of the infection in your mouth. If your gum disease is severe, you may need to have surgery.
How can you prevent gum disease?
Gum disease is most common in adults, but it can affect anyone, even children. So good dental habits are important throughout your life:
If you think you have a mild case of gum disease, make sure to take care of it before it gets worse. Keeping your teeth and gums healthy and getting regular checkups from your dentist can keep the disease from getting worse.
Having gum disease may increase a pregnant woman's risk of having a premature, low-birth-weight baby.1 Also, studies have found a direct link between heart disease and the bacteria that cause gum disease.2 So taking good care of your teeth and gums may have benefits beyond keeping your mouth healthy.
Frequently Asked Questions
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