Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is a common, and highly preventable, condition afflicting millions of people. It is an infection centered in tissues surrounding teeth. It is the leading cause of adult tooth loss in America. This condition is typically painless, so you could be infected and not know it. It is caused by bacteria, which accumulate in sticky plaque.
The symptoms of gum disease include:
- Gums bleeding when you brush your teeth
- Swollen, tender, or discolored gums
- Gums separated from the teeth creating pockets
- Changes in how your teeth meet when you bite down
- Changes in the way dental appliances fit
Anyone can develop gum disease. Factors that increase your risk include:
- Ineffective oral hygiene
- Use of tobacco products
- Family history of gum disease
- Orthodontic problems that make cleaning teeth difficult
- Medications such as oral contraceptives, some anti-epilepsy drugs, cancer therapy drugs, steroids, and some types of calcium channel blockers
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends seeing your dentist as soon as possible if you suspect that you might have gum disease. In the earliest stage, called gingivitis, it is reversible with diligent oral hygiene and professional treatment.
Periodontitis is the advanced stage of gum disease. The most common form is chronic periodontitis. It occurs most often in adults, though it can strike at any age. It causes destruction of the bone and gum tissue. Although it usually progresses slowly, there may be periods of rapid deterioration. Aggressive periodontitis is one of the most destructive forms. It is characterized by rapid bone loss and gum recession. It usually affects people who are healthy otherwise.
Researchers are currently working to understand how gum disease impacts your overall health. Although there is still much to be learned, many studies have established a link between gum disease and conditions such as stroke and diabetes. You can have gum disease with no noticeable symptoms, but your dentist or hygienist can detect the infection. This is one of the many reasons it is vital to maintain your biannual dental checkups. If disease develops, there are several treatment options, depending on the severity.