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What Is Gum Disease?

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Have you ever brushed your teeth and noticed a pink tinge on your toothbrush? It may have made you wonder if you have gum disease. So, what is gum disease? Gum disease is an inflammation of the gums that can lead to the deterioration of the tissues and bone that surround and support your teeth. The infection is primarily caused by plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that irritates the gum line if you let it build up. Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that can be reversed.

Gingivitis Precedes Periodontitis

The earliest stage of gum disease is called gingivitis, which is one of the most common conditions affecting the oral cavity. You might notice that your gums may become red and swollen and bleed easily. Luckily the symptoms are reversible at this point with proper oral hygiene methods, so that not all gingivitis progresses. When plaque builds up and mineralizes, it then becomes tartar. The longer plaque and tartar are on the teeth, the more harmful they become. If tartar is left untreated, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis. At this point, the bones, gums, and tissue that support the teeth are destroyed. Eventually, the teeth may become loose as well. According to the Saudi Ministry of Health, it is estimated that 5-20% of middle-age adults suffer from acute cases of periodontal diseases, which might lead up to loss of teeth. This ratio varies from one region to another.

Gum disease is usually painless, so it's difficult for people to realize that they may have it. If you're wondering how to know if you have it, take heed on the following telltale signs.

Warning Signs of Gum Disease

  • Gums that bleed easily

  • Red, swollen or tender gums

  • Gums that are pulling away (receded) from the teeth

  • Chronic bad breath or taste

  • Teeth becoming loose

  • Change in the way that teeth fit together when biting

  • Change in the fit of partial dentures

It is crucial to control the progression of gum disease, and that means plaque removal on a daily basis. Daily flossing is also significant in reaching in between the teeth, where a toothbrush cannot. Twice-a-day toothbrushings, along with professional dental cleanings twice a year, are absolute musts to prevent gum disease. Use a soft-bristle toothbrush with a toothpaste that has plaque fighting properties and fights the bacteria that causes plaque and tartar buildup for 12 hours.

Risk Factors for Gum Disease

Sometimes your daily oral health routine can be more than just taking care of your mouth. Gum disease can not only affect your oral health, but your general health as well. There has also been some indication of the association between gum disease and systemic illnesses, such as stroke and diabetes. According to the American Dental Association (ADA) Mouth Healthy site, untreated gum disease may make diabetes worse by making it harder to regulate your blood sugar. Other risk factors include:

  • Smoking or chewing tobacco

  • Genetics

  • Malocclusion of teeth (more difficult to keep clean)

  • Pregnancy

  • Poor oral hygiene habits

  • Medications, (e.g., steroids, anti-epilepsy drugs, cancer therapy drugs, some calcium channel blockers, and oral contraceptives)

What is gum disease, if not an opportunity to ensure you embrace proper oral hygiene? Consistent and thorough toothbrushing and flossing techniques are the most effective methods to remove food particles and plaque, preventing gum disease before it has a chance to set in. Improving these oral health habits will dramatically benefit the longevity of your smile and your overall health.

About the author: Diana Tosuni-O'Neill is a licensed registered dental hygienist in New York and New Jersey with over 25 years of clinical experience in dental hygiene practice. She was employed for over 15 years with the team dentist for the sports teams the New York Giants, the Brooklyn Nets and the New Jersey Devils. Diana is also an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and a Group Fitness Instructor. Her passion for the dental and fitness fields spans over two decades. She is also a freelance writer specializing in oral health care. She enjoys traveling, gardening, decorating and her fitness workouts. Diana presently resides outside Manhattan with her two children.


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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.