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.
How is gum disease diagnosed?
To find out if you have gum disease, your dentist or dental hygienist will do an examination 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.
How is it treated?
Early treatment of gum disease is very important. It can help prevent permanent gum damage, control infection, and prevent tooth loss. For treatment to work:
- Brush your teeth 2 times a day and floss 1 time a day.
- See your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings.
- Don't smoke or use any tobacco products.
For gingivitis, your dentist may prescribe antibiotics to help fight the infection. They can be put directly on the gums, swallowed as pills or capsules, or swished around your teeth as mouthwash. Your dentist may also recommend an antibacterial toothpaste that reduces plaque and gingivitis when used regularly.
For periodontitis, your dentist or dental hygienist may 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 need surgery if these treatments don't control the infection or if you have severe damage to your gums or teeth. Surgery options include:
- Gingivectomy to get rid of the pockets between the teeth and gums where plaque can build up.
- A flap procedure to clean the roots of a tooth and repair bone damage.
- Extraction to remove loose or very damaged teeth.
After surgery, you may need to take antibiotics or other medicines to aid healing and prevent infection.
After treatment, keep your mouth disease-free by brushing and flossing to prevent plaque buildup. Your dentist will probably prescribe an antibacterial mouthwash.
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.
- Brush your teeth 2 times a day, in the morning and before bedtime, with a fluoride toothpaste.
- Floss once each day.
- Visit your dentist for regular checkups and teeth cleaning.
- Don't use tobacco products.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
|Actionsets are designed to help people take an active role in managing a health condition.|
|Dental Care: Brushing and Flossing Your Teeth|
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about gum disease:
Living with gum disease:
Other Places To Get Help
|American Dental Association|
|211 East Chicago Avenue|
|Chicago, IL 60611-2678|
The American Dental Association (ADA), the professional membership organization of practicing dentists, provides information about oral health care for children and adults. The ADA can also help you find a dentist in your area.
|Canadian Academy of Periodontology|
|#105 - 1815 Alta Vista Drive|
|Ottawa, ON K1G 3Y6|
The mission of the Canadian Academy of Periodontology is to serve the members of the Academy as the national voice of periodontists, to promote excellence in the practice of periodontics by setting the standards of care and guidelines for therapy, and to advance the periodontal health of the public. This site provides information on periodontology, as well as the possibility of finding a licensed periodontist in Canada.
|Canadian Dental Association|
|1815 Alta Vista Drive|
|Ottawa, ON K1G 3Y6|
The Canadian Dental Association, the professional membership organization of dentists, provides information regarding oral health care for children and adults.
|Canadian Dental Hygienists Association (CDHA)|
|96 Centrepointe Drive|
|Ottawa, ON K2G 6B1|
The Canadian Dental Hygienists Association (CDHA) is a professional association of dental hygienists in Canada and helps represents them in the development of policies and standards related to dental hygiene practice, education, research, and regulation. The CDHA Web site offers an Oral Care Centre with a variety of information about dental hygiene for the general public.
|KidsHealth for Parents, Children, and Teens|
|Nemours Home Office|
|10140 Centurion Parkway|
|Jacksonville, FL 32256|
This website is sponsored by the Nemours Foundation. It has a wide range of information about children's health—from allergies and diseases to normal growth and development (birth to adolescence). This website offers separate areas for kids, teens, and parents, each providing age-appropriate information that the child or parent can understand. You can sign up to get weekly emails about your area of interest.
|U.S. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)|
|National Institutes of Health|
|Bethesda, MD 20892-2190|
The U.S. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) is a governmental agency that provides information about oral, dental, and craniofacial health. By conducting and supporting research, the NIDCR aims to promote health, prevent diseases and conditions, and develop new diagnostics and therapeutics.
Other Works Consulted
- Famili P, et al. (2007). The effect of androgen deprivation therapy on periodontal disease in men with prostate cancer. Journal of Urology, 177(3): 921–924.
- Hodges KO (2009). Periodontal diseases. In NO Harris et al., eds., Primary Preventive Dentistry, 7th ed., pp. 46–66. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
- Robinson PG, et al. (2005). Manual versus powered toothbrushing for oral health. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2). Oxford: Update Software.
- Task Force on Periodontal Treatment of Pregnant Women (2004). American Academy of Periodontology statement regarding periodontal management of the pregnant patient. Journal of Periodontology, 75(3): 495.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine|
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Steven K. Patterson, BS, DDS, MPH - Dentistry|
|Last Revised||July 18, 2013|
Public Health Alerts
Public health alerts include information about outbreaks, advisories and product recalls. Click on the links below to read the most recent alerts, or visit our Public Health Alerts web page.
FIND Services and Resources
If you are looking for health services in your community, you can use our directory to FIND hospitals, clinics, and other resources.
To learn more visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2013 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Is it an emergency?
If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be life-threatening. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately. If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.