What is Gum Disease?

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What is Gum Disease?

It has long been said by medical professionals that the need for dental care is oft forgotten, particularly as oral health relates to an individual’s overall wellness. However, some oral diseases are incredibly common and, if left untreated, can affect the ability to chew and lead to poor nutrition or even tooth loss.

Gum disease, one of the most frequently diagnosed oral health concerns in the United States, is an excellent example of this.

Gum Disease Defined

Most simply, gum disease is a specific type of inflammation that occurs when microscopic organisms, particularly bacteria, take up residence on the teeth and progress to colonize the gums, pockets surrounding the teeth, and the deeper structures such as supportive tissue and bone.

Types of Gum Disease

Gum disease, which you may also hear called periodontal disease, is incredibly prevalent. The two most common types of gum disease are gingivitis and periodontitis.


Gingivitis is an early stage of gum disease which occurs when inflammation is limited to the gums and does not involve the bone and deeper tissues. Gingivitis may be caused by an acute bacterial infection, or it can occur chronically if bacteria form damaging biofilms which result in inflammation and receding gums.

Gingivitis is reversible with improved dental hygiene.


According to an article published in the Journal of Dental Research, nearly half of Americans have some form of periodontitis, a more severe form of gum disease.

Unlike gingivitis, which is limited only to the part of the gum superficially surrounding each tooth, periodontitis occurs when this inflammation has advanced to the bone and other deep structures supporting the teeth.

Symptoms of Gum Disease

Those with gum disease may experience a variety of symptoms, cataloged by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • Swollen gums
  • Bleeding gums
  • Receding gums, which cause teeth to appear longer
  • Pain with chewing
  • Tooth sensitivity

If gum disease is severe enough and remains untreated, it can lead to loose teeth or eventual tooth loss.

Risk Factors for Gum Disease

Thanks to studies performed by medical researchers, we know that some individuals are more likely than others to develop gum disease. The American Academy of Periodontology lists several primary risk factors for the onset of periodontal inflammation and resulting disease. Among them are:

  • Age
  • Tobacco use
  • Obesity
  • Poor nutrition
  • The tendency to clench or grind one’s teeth
  • Stress
  • Genetic susceptibility
  • Medication side effects

Of these risk factors, smoking and tobacco use have some of the most significant effects on the development of gum disease.

How It’s Treated

For more severe cases of gum disease, treatment with prescription medications may be necessary. For example, medicated mouthwashes, antibiotics in gel or tablet forms, antiseptic chips, and enzyme suppressants are all types of medications which a dentist may prescribe for help controlling periodontal inflammation.

However, the best way to treat gum disease is to prevent it from happening in the first place! This is best accomplished with regular toothbrushing supplemented by flossing, rinsing, and scheduling regular appointments with a dental hygienist to ensure that plaque and bacteria are removed from the surfaces of teeth and the pockets surrounding them.

Brush twice a day, floss once daily, and visit a hygienist twice a year for the best results.

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