Gum Disease: Causes and Treatment

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Are you under the impression that gum disease is something that only happens to people of your grandparents’ age? Think again! You would be surprised to know that even teens can get gum disease. It can lead to simple problems like embarrassing bad breath to severe problems like tooth loss.

Gum disease or gingivitis is an inflammation of your gums caused by a bacterial infection. If you do not treat this oral disease, the condition can become severe, leading to periodontitis.

Gingivitis and periodontitis are the two major causes of tooth loss in adults. According to the American Dental Association, these are the most common gum problems prevalent in adults. Dental infections can add up with both your overall health and your wallet as well.


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According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ – stats, Americans spent about $130 billion on dental services in one year. Here we give an overview of the impact of different types of gum disease on your oral health and the risks involved.   

What is Gum Disease?

The earliest stage of gum disease is often referred to as gingivitis. The condition leads to the inflammation of your tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth. It is the result of poor dental hygiene. 

Gum disease is a widespread condition and is seen to vary widely in severity. It is characterized by swollen, red gums that bleed easily when your teeth are brushed or flossed. Gingivitis is not the same as periodontitis. 

Gum disease starts when food debris mixes with saliva and bacteria in your mouth, forming dental plaque that sticks to the teeth surfaces. If you forcefully do not remove plaque on teeth by brushing with toothpaste and flossing, it can become mineralized. Finally, forming tartar or calculus, a hard coating on your teeth. Tartar is very hard, and only professional dental cleaning can remove it.

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Dental plaque and tartar consist of harmful bacteria, and if they are not removed, they will begin to irritate the gums and cause gingivitis. If you leave them untreated, gingivitis will often extend from your gums to the bone and lead to periodontitis.

What is the Difference Between Gingivitis and Periodontitis?

While gingivitis is only the inflammation of your gums around the teeth. On the other hand, periodontitis occurs when the bone below your gums is infected or inflamed. Periodontitis is derived from the word periodontal, which means “around the tooth”. It refers to the structures that support and surround your teeth, such as the gums and the bones.

When the underlying bone of your affected teeth gets infected, your gums will start to recede away from the teeth. Resulting in the formation of deep gum pockets. This is known as attachment loss. These pockets can readily collect plaque and bacteria. Why? Because these pockets are difficult to keep clean, you might have more bone loss.  

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As your periodontal disease progresses into later stages, you might have more bone tissue loss. The gum pockets will become deeper, and your teeth may eventually become loose and fall out.

What Causes Gum Disease?

If you have improper oral hygiene, it will allow bacteria in plaque and calculus to remain on your teeth. Thus infecting the gums is the primary cause of gum disease. Besides, other factors might increase your risk of developing gum disease or gingivitis. 

Discussed below are some of the most common risk factors:

1 Chewing tobacco or smoking prevents the gum tissue from being able to heal.

2 If you have crooked, rotated, or overlapping teeth it might create more areas for plaque and calculus to accumulate on your teeth. It will become harder to keep clean.

3 Alcohol has a negative effect on oral defense mechanisms.

4 Hormonal changes, especially during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause, often correlate with a rise in gum disease. The increase in hormones will cause the blood vessels in your gums to be more susceptible to chemical and bacterial attacks. At puberty, the prevalence of gum disease ranges between 70%-90%.

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5 Cancer treatment can make you more susceptible to infection, thus increasing your risk of gum disease.

6 Mouth breathing can prove to be harsh on your gums when your lips do not protect them. It can cause chronic inflammation and irritation.

7 Stress decreases your body’s immune response to bacterial invasion.

8 Diabetes mellitus also impairs blood circulation and your gum’s ability to heal.

9 Poor nutrition, like a diet high in sugar and carbohydrates and low in water increases plaque formation. Moreover, a deficiency of important nutrients such as vitamin C can impair the healing process.

10 Certain medications can increase the risk for gum disease.

11 Infrequent or no dental care can also be responsible. 

12 Poor saliva production could be another cause. 

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Gum Disease?

A person with gum disease will typically have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Bright red, swollen gums that might bleed very easily. Especially during brushing or flossing.
  • You might have a bad taste or a persistent mouth odor.
  • White spots or plaques on the gums can be seen.
  • Gums look like they are pulling away from the teeth.
  • Pus formation between gums or interdental spaces.
  • You might notice loose teeth or tooth loss.

As gum disease progresses, various complications might arise. If gum disease advances to periodontitis, you might develop receding gums. In such a case, the root of your tooth becomes uncovered by the shrinking. Deep pockets might also develop around your teeth within these diseased gums that often trap food, debris, and plaque.

As periodontitis develops, you might lose gum tissue or bone around the affected teeth. Finally, your teeth may become loose or fall out. These changes might develop either very slowly or very rapidly. Loose teeth may affect either a few teeth or your entire mouth. 

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If oral hygiene is never performed or your mouth becomes immune to gum problems, acute problems can arise. This is a painful condition where your infected gums swell, ulcerate, and slough off dead tissue.

Remember, it is possible to have periodontitis or gingivitis and not notice any signs or symptoms. Hence regular visits to your dentist become vital in determining your risk level. Your dentist is the primary care provider of the mouth and can provide all the facts and information necessary in diagnosing the disease and taking steps in treating gum disease.

How is Gum Disease Diagnosed?

The following methods are beneficial in the diagnosis of gum disease, especially during your routine checkups:

1 Measuring the gums: Your dentist or dental hygienist will use a periodontal probe to measure the depths of the pockets around all your teeth at the dental clinic. This should be done once every calendar year. Your healthy gums will have pockets measuring 1 mm-3 mm deep. Any deeper pockets mean more severe gum disease.

2 Taking X-rays: Dental X-rays, particularly bitewing X-rays, will help your dentist see the underlying bone level and whether any bone has been lost to periodontal disease. Bitewing X-rays show details of your upper and lower teeth and are very helpful for dentists.

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3 Help examining sensitive teeth: If you notice that any of your teeth has become sensitive around your gum line it might indicate receding gums.

4 Check for loose teeth: With gum disease, your teeth might become loose due to bone loss or an incorrect bite.

5 Examining the gums: Your dentist will look for red, swollen, or bleeding gums.

How is Gum Disease Treated?

The main goal of treatment is generally to control the gum infection. The type of treatment will vary from person to person, depending on the extent of your gum disease. Any treatment requires that you keep up good daily care at home. 

Your dentist might also suggest changing certain behaviors – like quit smoking, as a way to improve your treatment results. If you cut back on smoking and manage your diabetes, it would help to heal gum disease better. You must strictly practice proper oral hygiene to treat gingivitis. Other treatments include:

  • deep cleaning your teeth
  • antibiotic medications
  • surgery

1 Cleaning teeth

Today there are several techniques that you can use to deep clean your teeth without going for surgery. They all remove plaque and tartar to help prevent gum irritation:

  • Scaling will remove tartar from both above and below the gum line.
  • Root planing will smooth rough spots and remove plaque and tartar from your root surface.
  • Lasers can also be used to remove tartar with less pain and bleeding than scaling and root planing.

2 Medications

There is a number of medications that can treat gum disease:

  • Antiseptic mouthwash contains the substance chlorhexidine, used to disinfect the mouth.
  • Insertion of antibiotic microspheres made with minocycline in the pockets post scaling and planing takes place.
  • Your dentist might prescribe oral antibiotics to treat persistent areas of gum inflammation.
  • Some antibiotics can help keep enzymes from causing tooth damage.

3 Surgery

Flap surgery is a dental procedure where your gums are lifted back while plaque and tartar are removed from deep pockets. Meaning your dentist might open and clean badly diseased gum pockets. Your dentist will suture the gums in place to fit snugly around the affected tooth. You dentist will opt for this procedure if you have advanced cases of periodontitis. 

Tissue and bone grafts are also commonly used when your teeth and jaw are badly damaged to heal.

Gingival grafting is another option if your gum tissues are too diseased to sew back together. Your dentist will remove healthy gum tissue from other parts of the mouth and stitch them into place. The graft typically replaces your diseased tissue and helps to anchor the teeth tightly, giving them an improved appearance.


You may have gum disease and have no warning signs. That is the primary reason why regular dental checkups and examinations are very important. 

Gum disease treatment methods depend upon the type of disease and how far your condition has progressed. It is essential to take good dental care at home to help keep periodontal disease from becoming more severe or recurring. 

Remember, you do not have to lose teeth when you have gum disease. Try to brush your teeth twice a day, clean between your teeth, eat a balanced diet, and schedule periodical dental visits for a lifetime of healthy smiles.

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