What Is Gum Disease?

Stories often appear in the news about the
association between oral health—specifically
gum disease—and overall health
conditions, such as diabetes or stroke.
But what is gum disease exactly?
The condition you may refer to as “gum disease”
also is called “periodontal disease.” Periodontal
disease is an inflammation of the gums that, if
severe, can lead to the loss of the tissues that
hold your teeth in place. It is caused by plaque,
a sticky film of bacteria that forms constantly
on teeth. You can remove plaque by brushing
twice a day and cleaning between your teeth
daily. If plaque is not removed, it can cause your
gums (gingivae) to pull away from your teeth,
forming pockets in which more bacteria can collect.
Plaque that is not removed also hardens
into calculus along and under your gums. The
pockets and hard calculus make it difficult to
remove plaque without help from a dentist, and
periodontal disease can develop. If left un -
treated, periodontal disease can damage the tissues
that support your teeth, even the bone.
Symptoms of periodontal disease include
gums that are red and swollen and bleed
easily (for example, when you brush or clean
between your teeth);
gums that seem to have pulled away from
the teeth;
constant bad breath;
pus between your teeth and gums;
teeth that seem to be loose or moving away
from one another;
change in the way your teeth fit together
when you bite;
change in the way your partial dentures fit.
There are various stages to periodontal disease—
from gingivitis (early stage) to periodontitis
(advanced disease). Red and swollen gums
that bleed easily are a sign of gingivitis. At this
early stage, the disease may be reversed with a
professional cleaning and more regular daily
care at home. During the cleaning, the dentist
or dental hygienist will use a special tool to
scrape the hardened calculus and plaque from
along and beneath your gum line. More ad -
vanced forms of the disease require cleanings
that go more deeply below the gum line. Sometimes,
the dentist will refer you to a specialist—
a periodontist—for these cleanings.
To prevent periodontal disease:
brush your teeth twice a day;
clean between your teeth with floss or
another interdental cleaner once every day;
visit your dentist for a checkup and professional
cleaning regularly;
show your dentist or dental hygienist how
you brush and clean between your teeth and ask
if you can make any improvements.
If you smoke or chew tobacco, stop. Tobacco
use increases the risk of developing periodontal
Researchers have reported associations
between periodontal disease and a host of other
conditions. (Keep in mind that an association
does not mean that one disease causes the
other. It means that one disease or condition
tends to appear at the same time as the other.)
For example, studies have shown that people
with diabetes tend to have periodontal disease
more often than those without diabetes, and
often the disease is more severe than that in
other people. Researchers also have found that
some people with diabetes who receive treatment
for periodontal disease see improvements
in their ability to control blood sugar levels after
those treatments.1
So keep in mind that your daily oral health
routine and professional dental care are more
than just taking care of your teeth. They are
important steps in taking care of yourself. ?
Prepared by the American Dental Association (ADA) Division of
Science. Copyright © 2011 American Dental Association. Unlike
other portions of JADA, the print version of this page may be clipped
and photocopied as a handout for patients without reprint permission
from the ADA Publishing Division. Any other use, copying or
distribution of this material, whether in printed or electronic form
and including the copying and posting of this material on a Web site,
is strictly prohibited without prior written consent of the ADA Publishing
“For the Dental Patient” provides general information on dental
treatments to dental patients. It is designed to prompt discussion
between dentist and patient about treatment options and does not
substitute for the dentist’s professional assessment based on the
individual patient’s needs and desires.
1. Teeuw WJ, Gerdes VE, Loos BG. Effect of periodontal treatment
on glycemic control of diabetic patients: a systematic review and
meta-analysis. Diabetes Care 2010;33(2):421-427.

If you would like further information on preventing gum disease, please contact our office.

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