Gum Disease

Medically Reviewed by Greg Grillo, D.D.S.

Gum disease, also known as periodontitis, is an inflammatory condition affecting the supporting tissue around the teeth. The leading cause of tooth loss, gum disease results from an uncontrolled bacterial infection that damages the gums and underlying bone.

If you suffer from periodontal disease, cosmetic treatments are usually deferred until the condition is controlled.  Gum disease needs initial treatment before services like Invisalign braces and Lumineers can be performed. Even non-cosmetic treatments like dental implants and dentures will require treatment of gum disease before they can be considered.

Signs and Symptoms of Gum Disease

Common signs of periodontitis include bleeding gums (regardless of whether you’re brushing your teeth), sensitive, red or swollen gums, bad breath, and loose teeth, or teeth that have shifted from their normal position. Gum disease may or may not cause your gums to recede. If they do, tooth roots can become exposed and create tooth sensitivity.

As the disease progresses, pockets can form between your teeth and gums and pus can develop. This could lead to additional problems including toothaches and tooth decay. In rare cases, gum disease can create the need for root canal therapy. Additionally, the underlying bone may recede. If gum disease is left untreated, tooth loss could occur. In fact, periodontitis is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults in many countries.

What are the Causes?

Certain types of bacteria produce toxins around the gum tissue and draw an inflammatory response from the body’s immune system.  This inflammation initially irritates the gum tissue, but often leads to bone damage underneath the gums.

Several factors contribute to gum disease, and most causes can be corrected to help control the condition. These include poor oral hygiene, which can be corrected with twice daily brushing, once daily flossing, and regular dental cleanings; organic imbalances in the mouth due to hormone changes (menopause, pregnancy); and medical conditions like diabetes or kidney disease, which are associated with gum disease.

Certain medications, such as antidepressants and anti-hypertensives, reduce salivary flow and may contribute to gum disease. Additionally, clenching and teeth grinding habits that stress the supporting gum tissue also may lead to gum disease.

Gum Disease Treatment Options

Treatments vary based on the severity of the condition and the patient’s unique history. Your dentist will perform a thorough examination to determine the extent of the condition before developing an appropriate treatment plan.

Most gum disease treatments begin with a professional cleaning to remove bacterial calculus (tartar) from the teeth and below the gum line. More intensive cleaning, such as deep scaling and root planing in the gum pockets, may be required. Dentists may administer local antibiotic treatments directly into the gum pockets or prescribe a medicated mouthwash.

The most severe forms of gum disease may require treatment with tissue regeneration (using membranes to help re-grow bone and gum tissue), surgery to eliminate the gum pockets and remove gum infections, and laser treatments to reduce the depth of gum pockets. Treatment costs vary based on several factors, including the extent of treatment and what type of dentist provides the services (general dentist or periodontist).

Regardless of the treatment, periodic visits with a licensed hygienist provide critical maintenance. Gum disease is controllable, but it’s not curable. With the right plan and daily efforts at home, you can enjoy your teeth for a lifetime.