Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is an infection that occurs in the gums, deep tissues, and bones that support your teeth. The word "periodontal" means "around the tooth." Unless the disease is treated, it can ultimately lead to tooth loss. In fact, the American Academy of Periodontology lists gum disease as the primary cause of tooth loss in adults age 35 and over.
How Gum Disease Starts
Your mouth naturally produces a sticky substance called plaque. Without adequate brushing and flossing, this plaque builds up on your teeth. The bacteria in plaque produce poisons, or toxins, which irritate the gums, causing infection. As the infection increases in severity, it breaks down the bones and tissues that hold your teeth in place.
The Two Primary Stages of Gum Disease
Gingivitis: The initial stage of gum disease, known as gingivitis, is the mildest form of the disease. During this stage, the gums become swollen and red, and may bleed with brushing or flossing. Gingivitis is frequently painless, and as a result, many people suffering from it don't seek advice or treatment. But with professional treatment and daily attention to oral hygiene, gingivitis can be reversed before it progresses.
Periodontitis: Untreated gingivitis may develop into periodontitis, the more extreme form of the disease. In this stage, the infected gums begin to separate from the teeth. The newly created spaces between the gums and the teeth are called pockets. As the disease progresses, these pockets grow larger, allowing for greater damage to deep tissues as well as bone. When enough tissue and bone are affected, the teeth loosen and may fall out or need to be removed.
Signs to Watch For
Because gum disease can exist without pain or discomfort, it's important to be aware of the possible warning signs that may indicate a problem:
- Gums that appear red or swollen
- Gums that feel tender
- Gums that bleed easily (during brushing or flossing)
- Gums that recede or pull away from the teeth
- Persistent bad breath
- Loose teeth
- New spaces that develop between teeth
- Any change in the way teeth come together in the biting position
- Any change in the way partial dentures fit
If you suspect that you may be suffering from gingivitis or periodontitis, make an appointment with our office immediately. We can diagnose the problem, determine how far the disease has progressed, and recommend an appropriate treatment.