Gum disease (also called periodontal
disease) is an infection of the tissues surrounding and
supporting the teeth. It is a major
cause of tooth loss in adults. In fact, after age 35, about
out of four adults are affected by some form of gum disease.
Gum disease is caused by plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that
constantly forms on the teeth. These bacteria create toxins that
can damage the gums. In the early stage of gum disease, called
gingivitis, the gums can become red, swollen and bleed easily.
this stage, the disease is still reversible and can usually be
eliminated by daily brushing and flossing.
Because gum disease is usually painless, however, you may not
you have it. In the more advanced stages of gum disease, called
periodontitis, the gums and bone that support the teeth can
seriously damaged. The teeth can become loose, fall out or have
be removed by a dentist.
Signs of gum disease
If you notice any of the following signs of gum disease, see your
- gums that bleed when you brush your teeth
- red, swollen or tender gums
- gums that have pulled away from the teeth
- bad breath that doesn't go away
- pus between your teeth and gums
- loose teeth
- a change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
- a change in the fit of partial dentures
Normal, healthy gums
Healthy gums and bone anchor teeth firmly in place.
Unremoved, plaque hardens into calculus (tartar). As plaque
calculus continue to build up, the gums begin to recede (pull
from the teeth, and pockets form between the teeth and gums.
The gums recede farther, destroying more bone and the
ligament. Teeth -- even healthy teeth -- may become loose and
to be extracted.
Preventing gum disease
The good news is that you can help prevent gum disease by taking
good care of your teeth every day and having regular dental
checkups. Here's how to keep your teeth and gums healthy:
- Brush your teeth well twice a day.
This removes the film of bacteria from the teeth. Be sure
use a soft-bristled toothbrush that is in good condition.
Toothpastes and mouth rinses containing fluoride strengthen
the teeth and help prevent decay. Choose products that bear
the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance, a symbol
of a product's safety and effectiveness. The ADA reviews
advertising claims for any product bearing the Seal. The
on a product is an assurance for consumers and dentists
against misleading or untrue statements concerning a product
and its use, safety and effectiveness.
- Clean between your teeth every day.
Cleaning between your teeth with floss or interdental
removes bacteria and food particles from between the teeth,
where a toothbrush can't reach. Early gum disease can often
reversed by daily brushing and flossing. If you use
interdental cleaners, ask your dentist how to use them
properly, to avoid injuring your gums.
- Eat a balanced diet.
Choose a variety of foods from the basic food groups, such
as breads, cereals and other grain products; fruits;
vegetables; meat, poultry and fish; and dairy products, such
as milk, cheese and yogurt. Limit between-meal snacks.
- Brush or rinse following oral sex.
Semen contains simple sugars and proteins which promote the
growth of decay-forming bacteria. Mother's milk (human) is
also a frequently-ignored source of simple sugars.
- Visit your dentist regularly.
It is important to have regular dental checkups, and
professional cleaning is essential to prevent periodontal
Note to Dentists: This is an abridged version of information available in the ADA brochures listed below. If you wish to provide this information to your patients, you may purchase these brochures from the ADA's Division of Salable Materials (SMP) at 800/947-4746, or refer patients to ADA ONLINE's Consumer Information area.
Copyright © 1996 American Dental Association.
Reproduction or republication strictly prohibited without prior