Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is a chronic infection that can result in a number of health problems, from mild inflammation to severe gum damage to tooth loss, if left untreated. In addition, gum disease can affect your overall health, and has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Gum disease develops in the space between your gum line and your teeth. It causes tissue inflammation and damage that can eventually cause your gums to recede. The severity of gum disease is determined by the depth of the excess space, or so-called “pockets,” that form as your gum tissue recedes.
The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that 80 percent of adults in the United States have some degree of gum disease.
Gum disease is classified as either gingivitis or periodontitis. Gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease and is reversible with treatment. But it can also develop into the more serious oral health problem, periodontitis.
Gingivitis results in swollen, irritated gums that bleed easily. Good oral health habits, including daily flossing and brushing, as well as getting regular professional teeth cleanings can prevent and help to reverse this disease, which typically doesn’t result in the loss of gum tissue or teeth.
Periodontitis occurs as a result of untreated gingivitis. In periodontitis, the gums significantly recede from the teeth, leading to the formation of infected pockets. As your body’s immune system struggles to fight off these infection, tissues and bones may start to break down. Without proper treatment, the gums, connective tissue, and jaw bones that support your teeth may all deteriorate and begin to compromise your overall oral health. Eventually, the teeth will loosen and either fall out or have to be removed.
Your oral health is critical to your overall health. If you notice any of the following symptoms, seek care from a dentist who is knowledgeable about treating gum disease:
In addition to poor oral health habits, other factors associated with gum disease include:
Untreated gum disease has been associated with an increased risk for heart disease and stroke, and for women, an increased chance of delivering a baby with a low birth weight. Gum disease has also been linked to trouble controlling blood sugar among diabetics.
Gum disease can be treated in several ways, depending on whether you have gingivitis or periodontitis. The primary goal is to manage the chronic infection that leads to gum damage. Treatment options include:
While it’s good to know there are treatments, it’s better to avoid gum disease in the first place, by brushing and flossing at least twice a day, eating a balanced diet, and visiting your dentist regularly for exams and cleanings.