Gum disease is a bacterial infection of the tissues and bones that surround and support the teeth. It is also called periodontal disease. Gingivitis is mild gum disease that only affects the gingiva, or gums, the tissue surrounding the teeth. Gum disease that progresses and spreads below the gum line to damage the tooth-supporting tissues and bone is called periodontitis
Your mouth constantly produces a clear, sticky substance called plaque that contains bacteria. The bacteria in plaque make poisons, or toxins, that irritate the gums and cause the tissues to break down. If you don't do a good job of removing plaque from your teeth, it can spread below the gum line and damage the bone that supports the teeth. With time, plaque hardens into a substance called tartar that has to be removed by a dentist or dental hygienist
You are more likely to get gum disease if you:
Healthy gums are pink and firm, fit snugly around the teeth, and do not bleed easily. Early-stage gum disease (gingivitis) causes:
As gum disease advances, it causes more noticeable symptoms, such as:
To diagnose gum disease, your dentist will do an exam to look for:
Your dentist or dental hygienist may take X-rays of your teeth to look for bone damage and other problems.
If you have gingivitis, you will probably be able to reverse it with daily brushing and flossing and regular cleanings at your dentist's office.
If your gum disease has advanced to periodontitis, your dentist or dental hygienist will 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 also need to take antibiotics to help get rid of the infection in your mouth. If your gum disease is severe, you may need to have surgery.
While gum disease is most common in adults, it can affect anyone, even children, so good dental habits are important throughout your life:
Having gum disease may increase a pregnant woman's risk of having a premature, low-birth-weight baby. 1 Also, studies have found a direct link between heart disease and the bacteria that cause gum disease. 2, 3 So taking good care of your teeth and gums may have benefits beyond keeping your mouth healthy.