About Gum Disease Symptoms and Treatment

What Is Periodontal/Gum Disease?

Signs & Symptoms of Periodontal Disease
Healthy tooth (left) vs. Effects of Periodontal Disease (right)

The word periodontal literally means “around the tooth.” Periodontal or gum diseases are serious infections, affecting the tissues surrounding the teeth. These tissues include the gums and bone supporting the teeth. Without treatment, periodontal disease can result in tooth loss (See Stages of the Disease).

Periodontal disease is usually a slow, painless, progressive disease. Most adults with periodontal disease are unaware they have it. If diagnosed and treated early, the teeth can be saved.

Periodontal or gum disease is one of the leading causes of tooth loss. Many people are unaware that they have periodontal disease. Gum disease can range from slight inflammation of the gums, to a serious infection that can compromise the soft tissue and bone that support the teeth. The two most common forms of periodontal disease include:

  • Gingivitis. Gingivitis is the initial stage of periodontal disease. It presents mild inflammation of the gums, caused by poor oral hygiene practices.
  • Periodontitis. Periodontitis is much more severe. It affects the gums, as well as the supporting bone. At this stage, the gums pull away from the surface of the tooth and the pockets that form as a result of this become infected. This can cause the jaw bone to deteriorate, which can cause teeth to loosen and eventually fall out.


What Causes Periodontal Disease?

The main cause of periodontal disease is the accumulation of plaque bacteria. Plaque is an often colorless mass of bacteria that sticks to teeth, crowns and bridges, and other tissues in the oral cavity. Plaque is constantly forming on the teeth. Plaque irritates the gums, causing them to become red, tender, and swollen.

If it is not removed daily, plaque progresses to a hard material known as tartar or calculus. Calculus cannot be removed by brushing and flossing alone. A dentist, periodontist, or hygienist must remove it manually to stop the disease process.

With time, the tissues that attach the gums to the teeth are destroyed by plaque and its toxins. The gums “pull away” from the teeth and pockets begin to form between the teeth and gums. Plaque and calculus continue to fill these pockets until eventually, the jawbone supporting the teeth is destroyed.

Other factors can modify how your gums react to plaque or calculus. The following can alter your body’s response to the disease and affect your overall health:

  • Smoking/Tobacco Use
  • Diabetes
  • Stress
  • Medications
  • Clenching or Grinding Your Teeth
  • Pregnancy and Puberty
  • Diet and Nutrition
  • Immunosuppression (i.e. leukemia, AIDS)

How To Prevent Periodontal Disease

Although periodontal disease can cause serious oral health complications, it is preventable. Taking care of your gums is essential when it comes to preventing and treating periodontal disease. Following these guidelines can help:

  • Brush. Practicing good oral hygiene and brushing your teeth daily helps remove bacteria and food particles and massage the gums. Be sure to brush twice a day for two minutes.  
  • Floss. Flossing is essential for removing any food particles and bacteria that are trapped between the teeth or slightly below the gumline that a toothbrush cannot reach.
  • Regular dental checkups. During routine dental checkups, the dentist will examine the gums and other oral tissues for signs of any periodontal disease. A professional dental cleaning will be performed that will remove the excess plaque and bacteria below the gumline.