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What is Gum Disease?

Gum disease, also referred to as Periodontitis, is a bacterial growth in the mouth that, if not properly treated, results in conditions ranging between inflamed and bleeding gums to the loss of teeth and gum tissue.

The Stages of Gum Disease

The first stage of gum disease is called Gingivitis. During this stage, bacteria in plaque build up causes an infection that results in the inflammation of the gums, which tend to bleed when brushed. At this stage, gingivitis can be treated and cured as no irreversible damage has occurred.

If gingivitis is left untreated, it can advance to periodontitis, which causes the inner layer of gum tissue and bone to begin to pull away from the teeth, and form pockets in the tissue. These small pockets between teeth and gum tissue become infected, as bacteria and food debris become trapped in the small spaces. The bacteria then spreads and grows below the gum line.

Plaque buildup can lead to the early stages of gum disease.

Toxins, produced by the bacteria, start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place. As the disease progresses, the pockets deepen and more gum tissue and bone are destroyed, and cause tooth loss. This damage is irreversible.

What Causes Gum Disease?

Plaque is the No.1 cause of gum disease. However, other factors can contribute to its onset. These factors include:

  • Hormonal changes, such as changes during pregnancy, puberty, menopause, etc.
  • Illnesses such as cancer or HIV that interfere with the immune system.
  • Medications that lessen the flow of saliva and cancel its protective effect on teeth and gums.
  • Bad habits such as smoking
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Family history of dental disease

What Are the Symptoms of Gum Disease?

Throughout the stages of gum disease, the warning signs may not be completely obvious, and that is why this disease can go untreated. However, certain symptoms may point to some form of the disease, and should not be ignored. If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should check in with your dentist.

The symptoms of gum disease include:

  • Gums that bleed after and during tooth brushing
  • Red, swollen, or tender gums
  • Constant bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth
  • Receding gums
  • Formation of deep pockets between teeth and gums
  • Loose or shifting teeth
  • Changes in the way teeth fit together

How Can Gum Disease Be Prevented?

The symptoms of gingivitis can be completely reversed and the advancement of gum disease can be stopped when the buildup of plaque and bacteria is controlled.

Keeping up good dental hygiene habits, such as brushing and flossing twice a day, and receiving dental checkups and professional cleanings on a regular basis, go a long way in preventing many oral conditions, including gum disease.

Other health and lifestyle changes that would decrease the risk, severity, and speed of gum disease development include:

  • Stop smoking
  • Reduce stress
  • Maintain a well-balanced diet
  • Avoid clenching and grinding your teeth

Although you may look after your oral hygiene, the American Academy of Periodontology said up to 30% of Americans may be genetically susceptible to the disease. Those who are susceptible may be up to six times more likely to develop some form of gum disease. If you are one of these individuals, your dentist or periodontist may recommend more frequent check-ups, cleanings, and treatments to better manage the condition.

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