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What is Gum Disease?

By Sherry Holetzky
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Early gum disease is called gingivitis, while more severe cases are usually referred to as periodontitis or periodontal disease. While it is most often associated with poor oral hygiene, there are also other causes including genetic tendencies toward the disease or deterioration of the gums due to chronic illness such as diabetes. Caring for your teeth and gums properly and visiting your dentist regularly are very important steps in preventing and treating this condition.

The symptoms of gum disease range from slight bleeding of the gums, especially after brushing, to possible tooth loss or the need for reconstructive surgery. Infection, usually caused by bacteria found in plaque and tartar, is a major part of the disease and may require treatment with antibiotics. Prolonged exposure to plaque may cause gums to swell, become painful and recede. Many people with gum disease also have sensitive teeth, which can cause discomfort that is generally triggered by heat, coldness or pressure. Suffering from bad breath and frequently experiencing an unpleasant taste are also common symptoms.

Applying too much pressure when brushing teeth, not brushing well or often enough and failure to floss contribute to gum disease. Using a soft toothbrush, gargling with a mouthwash that contains antibacterial ingredients, and using a fluoride rinse before brushing are all helpful in inhibiting it. If you are concerned about your gums, it is a good idea to visit your dentist regularly. You may also want to ask him or her about prescription fluoride treatments.

In advanced cases of gum disease, especially those left untreated, infection can penetrate down into the tissue, support structures and bone. This can result in teeth that shift or even require removal. In the most severe cases, the infected area may need to be scraped away, or tissue and bone grafts may be necessary.

Another type of surgery, known as "flap surgery," is sometimes used as well. This measure requires the gums to be pulled away from the teeth in order for tartar to be removed. Afterwards, the oral surgeon must sew the gums into place to create the proper fit around the teeth.

Remember, even if you wear dentures gum disease can still become an issue. Caring for your gums is an essential part of oral hygiene if you want to avoid serious complications.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon294621 — On Oct 02, 2012

Is it OK for me to have front bottom fillings as the three front teeth have receded a bit?

By anon93780 — On Jul 05, 2010

My boyfriend's gums look really red as if they're bleeding around the inside of his teeth, under the tongue, and, the gums around the front of his bottom teeth look as if they have some type of whitish-yellowish fluid under them. Can anybody maybe explain what it may be? And any methods on how to relieve the pain?

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