Roughly three-quarters of Americans experience gum disease as least once during their lifetimes. This condition - characterized by inflamed, red and often bleeding gums - is usually preventable. Most cases stem from poor dental hygiene; it is generally recommended that you brush at least twice a day and floss at least once a day to help prevent gum disease. However, the development of gum disease can also signal an underlying health condition, like diabetes or heart disease.
If left unchecked, gingivitis, a reversible condition, progresses to periodontitis, which requires more intensive treatments. Learn more about how gum disease develops and its most common forms.
What Is Gum Disease?
Also called periodontal disease, gum disease is a progressive condition that affects the gums and surrounding tissue, and potentially the jawbone as well. At this stage, you risk losing teeth and other bone tissue.
Plaque is the start of gum disease. The bacteria found in accumulations of plaque multiplies and starts to pass below the gumline. Here, brushing won't break up their colonies, and an infection develops. In response, your gums will appear red and inflamed and feel irritated. You may also notice some bleeding, particularly when brushing your teeth or flossing, and start to see the gum tissue recede.
Bacteria can then progress without interruption, creating deeper gum pockets and eventually making its way to the jawbone. Here, the infection can cause tooth and jawbone loss. At first, symptoms may be mild or may even go unnoticed. With time, individuals with gum disease will experience increasingly severe pain and irritation and may find that their bite strength is compromised.
Generally, gum disease is rooted in insufficient dental care. However, other factors can accelerate its progression, including:
- Smoking and tobacco use
- Hormonal changes
- Steroid use
- Chronic health conditions
- Medication side effects
- Dry mouth
- Family history
- A diet high in sugar and carbohydrates
Types of Gum Disease
Gum disease types are characterized by their symptoms, progression and any related health issues the person may have. These types include:
The most common form of gum disease, gingivitis generally stems from plaque accumulation. At this stage, your gums may feel irritated or swollen or bleed somewhat, and you may spot some recession or sores. These symptoms are often accompanied by unresolved bad breath.
Treatments for gingivitis vary. Based on the progression of the bacteria, your dentist may recommend improving your at-home care routine. They may also steer you toward antibiotics or a scaling and root planing procedure to reduce gum pockets.
Also called periodontitis, periodontal disease can emerge from untreated gingivitis. Brushing and flossing won't help. Instead, bacteria-caused inflammation continues to progress, going below the gumline and eventually to supporting bone tissue. Gums appear to recede more, and you may even lose teeth.
Periodontitis is divided into two types: chronic and aggressive. The latter type progresses at a faster pace and often results in greater tissue damage. Scaling and root planing, plus a course of antibiotics, can help control the inflammation of periodontitis. However, surgical treatments to reduce the size of gum pockets and help build up healthy tissue and jawbone structure may be recommended, based on the disease's progression.
Systemic Condition Periodontitis
The symptoms of systemic condition periodontitis reflect those of chronic or aggressive periodontitis. However, the source of this condition also affects other parts of your body. You may be experiencing gum disease in relation to diabetes, heart disease, a genetic disorder, a respiratory condition or a hematologic condition like leukemia. In this case, both your dentist and your doctors should collaborate on a treatment plan.
Necrotizing Periodontal Disease
This rare form of periodontal disease is found in individuals living with malnutrition, HIV or another systemic condition affecting the immune system. However, it may also be present in individuals contending with chronic stress or who have been smoking for years. This form of gum disease is characterized by tissue necrosis, including related ligaments, the gum and the alveolar bone. This results in frequent bleeding and more lost teeth. Due to the underlying health concern, a patient's doctor usually takes the lead on managing necrotizing periodontal disease.
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