Roughly half of adult's experience gum disease, whether in its early stages in the form of gingivitis or in more advanced stages as periodontal disease. Stemming from the plaque present in your mouth, gum disease gradually spreads - potentially to the point where your teeth become loose or you experience jawbone loss.
Given its prevalence, is gum disease contagious? The answer is that while the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) doesn't classify gingivitis and periodontitis as contagious conditions, the bacteria contributing to gum disease can spread to other individuals through various forms of contact and invite tooth decay in the process. Here's what you should be aware of.
What Is Gum Disease?
Gum disease starts out as a condition known as gingivitis, characterized by inflammation of the gums. You may notice some redness and occasional bleeding. This is often observed while flossing. If ignored, it progresses to periodontitis - a more widespread form of dental inflammation contributing to bad breath, loose teeth and even declining jawbone mass. In extreme cases, the infection can spread to your blood and your heart.
Gingivitis occurs in response to plaque buildup - typically a result of negligent dental hygiene, but also in response to dry mouth or other lifestyle factors. Not brushing or flossing often enough can cause plaque to progress below the gumline. Here, it can irritate your gums, contribute to inflammation and eventually harden into tartar, causing gum pockets to form.
Eventually, the gum tissue will pull away from your teeth. Dentists characterize this form of gum disease as periodontitis. At this point, the plaque continues its journey below the gumline unless you receive professional intervention, and you risk tooth and jawbone loss.
Is Gum Disease Contagious?
The short answer is no, but the reality is more complex. The bacteria that contribute to gingivitis aren't confined to your mouth, and they can spread through person-to-person contact. This includes via the mouth or by sharing saliva in some form. This can contribute to tooth decay or gingivitis for the person who is exposed.
How Gum Disease Can Be Spread Between People
Gum disease spreads through the following forms of contact:
- Kissing: This includes between adults and children, and it is the primary reason you're advised to avoid kissing an infant or toddler on the mouth. In addition, individuals more prone to tooth decay - for example, those living with dry mouth and those who are pregnant or who are diabetic - are more vulnerable to gingivitis through this pathway. While risks remain low, one 2008 study shows that children of parents living with gum disease are more likely to develop the condition themselves.
- Sharing food and utensils: In these scenarios, you expose others to your saliva and any bacteria contained within the fluid. Should bacteria contributing to gum disease be present, it can spread through this kind of contact. Exposure may be traced back to sharing food among a group, taking a bite from someone else's food, or using forks, spoons, straws or cups that haven't been cleaned properly.
Signs of Gum Disease
If you're concerned about exposure, understand the signs of gum disease. These signs include:
- Tender, sensitive or painful gums.
- Gums that bleed after you brush or floss your teeth.
- Visibly red or even purple gums.
- Bad breath that never goes away.
- Receding gums.
- Swollen, inflamed gum tissue.
- Gums that feel softer or more pliable.
Prevention of gum disease ultimately comes down to your dental habits. You're advised to brush a minimum of two times per day, floss as least once per day and get a professional cleaning every six months.
In addition, the izzo® 4-in-1 Oral Care System allows you to access a deeper level of clean right at home. This system helps control plaque with an Oscillating Brush Head, reduces surface stains with the Polishing Cup Head and Enamel Polishing Paste, and includes a Scaler for removing plaque deposits from between teeth and around the gumline. Learn more about upgrading your dental routine with the izzo oral care system.