What is Gum Disease?

Gum disease is also known as periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease is an infection of the tissues and bone that support the teeth. Untreated gum disease can become very serious, causing teeth to become loose or fall out.

Gum disease is usually caused by a buildup of plaque, an invisible sticky layer of germs that forms naturally on the teeth and gums. Plaque contains bacteria, which produce toxins that irritate and damage the gums.

Hundreds of types of bacteria live in the mouth, so keeping plaque at bay is a constant battle. That's why brushing and flossing every day — and regular trips to the dentist — are so important.

Symptoms of Gum Disease

In its early stages, gum disease is called gingivitis. Gums may be red and bleed a little when you brush, but otherwise you may not notice anything. At this point, the gum disease can be reversed with good dental care. If not treated, the gingivitis will get worse and you might start to notice bleeding from your gums when eating harder foods, such as apples.

As gingivitis progresses, an infection develops at the point of attachment. The results of this infection are puffy gums, traces of blood on your toothbrush, or a change of colour in your gums. Even with these symptoms, you still might not experience any pain in your mouth.

The good news is that a dental professional can spot gum disease at an early stage and treat it. Using a tool called a periodontal probe, he or she can measure where your gums attach to your teeth. If it is not just beneath the edge of the gums, but further below, this is a sign of gum disease. X-rays can be used to see whether there has been any loss of bone around the teeth. This helps your dental professional decide whether a tooth can be saved or if it must be removed.

Minimizing Your Risk

The most important steps you can take to maintain healthy gums and teeth are to care for your teeth and have regular dental checkups.

Brush your teeth at least twice a day to remove plaque, and floss once a day. An antimicrobial mouth rinse can also be used in combination with brushing and flossing to reduce the bacteria in your mouth. If you already have gum disease, brushing and flossing are even more important.

See a dental professional regularly to have your teeth and gums checked. This professional will clean your teeth to remove tartar build-up.

Check your gums and teeth on a regular basis to look for signs of gum disease. These may include:

  • Red and swollen (puffy) gums
  • Pain in the gum area
  • Blood on your toothbrush or floss
  • Persistent bad breath
  • Loose teeth
  • Teeth that have changed position during a short timeframe.

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