Gum (Periodontal) Disease

What Is Gum (Periodontal) Disease?

An Infection of the Gums and Surrounding Tissues

Gum (periodontal) disease is an infection of the gums and surrounding tissues that hold teeth in place. The two forms of gum disease are gingivitis, a mild form that is reversible with good oral hygiene, and periodontitis, a more severe form that can damage the soft tissues and bone that support teeth. If left untreated, periodontitis can lead to tooth loss.

In its early stages, gum disease is usually painless, and many people are not aware that they have it. In more advanced cases, gum disease can cause sore gums and pain when chewing.

Not A Normal Part of Aging

The good news is that gum disease can be prevented. It does not have to be a part of growing older. With thorough brushing and flossing and regular professional cleanings by your dentist, you can reduce your risk of developing gum disease as you age. If you have been treated for gum disease, sticking to a proper oral hygiene routine and visiting your dentist for regular cleanings can minimize the chances that it will come back.

Plaque Buildup Can Form Tartar

Gum disease is typically caused by poor brushing and flossing habits that allow dental plaque -- a sticky film of bacteria -- to build up on the teeth. Plaque that is not removed can harden and form tartar that brushing doesn't clean. Only a professional cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist can remove tartar.

Gum disease can range from simple gum inflammation to serious disease. The two forms of gum disease are gingivitis and periodontitis.

Gingivitis and Periodontitis

In gingivitis, the gums become red, swollen and can bleed easily. Gingivitis can usually be reversed with daily brushing and flossing, and regular cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist. This form of gum disease does not include any loss of bone and tissue that hold teeth in place.

When gingivitis is not treated, it can advance to periodontitis. In periodontitis, gums pull away from the teeth and form spaces (called "pockets") that become infected. The body's immune system fights the bacteria as the plaque spreads and grows below the gum line. Bacterial toxins and the body's natural response to infection start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place. If not treated, the bones, gums, and tissue that support the teeth are destroyed. The teeth may eventually become loose and may have to be removed.