Covers symptoms and causes of gum disease (also called gingivitis, periodontitis, or periodontal disease). Covers what increases your risk. Discusses home treatment. Covers treatment with medicines, root planing and scaling, and surgery.
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
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,
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?
gums are pink and firm, fit snugly around the teeth, and do not bleed easily.
Gums that are red, swollen, and
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
Bad breath that won't go away.
Pus coming from
A change in how your teeth fit together when you
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 exam to look
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
Don't smoke or use any tobacco products.
For gingivitis, your dentist may
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.
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.
flap procedure to clean the roots of a tooth and
repair bone damage.
Extraction to remove loose or very
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
Visit your dentist for regular checkups and teeth
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.
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.
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Task Force on Periodontal Treatment of Pregnant Women
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management of the pregnant patient. Journal of Periodontology, 75(3): 495.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.