Periodontal Gum Disease

What is periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease is infection and swelling of the gum tissue and bones that support the teeth. There are 2 stages of periodontal disease.

  • Gingivitis. Your gums may be tender, swollen, or bleed easily. It’s the first stage of gum disease.
  • Periodontitis. If gingivitis is not treated, the bacteria causing the problem may attack the bones and other tissues that support your teeth. This is called periodontitis and is more serious. The bacteria can destroy the bone. Your teeth may get loose and need to be pulled.

Periodontal disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults over 40. Early diagnosis and treatment can usually prevent tooth loss.

What is the cause?

Gum disease is most often caused by bacteria found in plaque. Plaque is a sticky material made of mucus and saliva, food particles, and bacteria. If it’s not removed with daily brushing and flossing, plaque can lead to cavities, a hard buildup called tartar, and gum disease.

Other causes may include:

  • Injury to your gums from not brushing and flossing your teeth correctly
  • Untreated decay along your gum line
  • Loose fillings or crowns
  • Irritation from smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Lack of vitamins, especially vitamin C
  • Diseases such as diabetes, thyroid problems, and problems with your immune system that make it harder for your body to fight infection or cause your body to attack your own tissue
  • Medicines that make your mouth dry or that may cause your gums to get easily inflamed and swollen
  • Pregnancy

Also, stress can make the disease more severe and harder to fight.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Bad breath
  • A bad taste in your mouth
  • Red, tender, swollen gums that bleed easily and ache deep into the bone
  • Teeth that are loose or moving apart from one another
  • Sensitivity of teeth to hot and cold temperatures or to sweet foods
  • Pus seen between the teeth when the gums are pressed
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  • A change in the fit of partial dentures

How is it diagnosed?

Your dentist will examine your teeth, gums, and jaw. Your dentist will check to see if you have any bone or gum loss. You may have X-rays taken of your mouth.

How is it treated?

Treatment starts with professional cleaning of your teeth. The dentist or dental hygienist will remove tartar and plaque from the surfaces of your teeth and the roots of your teeth. After the tartar and plaque are removed and the tooth and root surfaces are clean, the tissue can heal.

Other treatments may include:

  • Antibacterial, alcohol-free mouthwash
  • Changes in the medicines you take if the problem has been caused or worsened by your medicines
  • Vitamin supplements
  • Reshaping your bite by grinding tooth surfaces or using braces
  • Splinting teeth together to stabilize loose teeth
  • Gum or bone surgery

How can I take care of myself?

  • Your dentist or hygienist will teach you the best ways to brush and floss your teeth. This may include the use of specially shaped wire brushes or rubber tips to clean between your teeth and increase blood flow in the gum tissue.
  • Rinse your mouth with warm salt water (1 cup warm water mixed with 1/2 teaspoon of salt) to soothe your gums and lessen swelling.
  • Take nonprescription pain medicine, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take these medicines for more than 10 days.
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age.
    • Acetaminophen may cause liver damage or other problems. Unless recommended by your provider, don’t take more than 3000 milligrams (mg) in 24 hours. To make sure you don’t take too much, check other medicines you take to see if they also contain acetaminophen. Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol while taking this medicine.

How can I help prevent periodontal disease?

The best way to prevent gum disease is taking good care of your teeth.

  • Follow your dentist’s instructions for brushing and flossing. Consider using a water pick to help flush out food that is between the teeth.
  • If you smoke, try to quit. Talk to your healthcare provider about ways to quit smoking. Also, do not use chewing tobacco.
  • Brush your tongue to help remove bacteria and food.
  • Gently massage your gums with a soft toothbrush.
  • Replace your toothbrush every 3 months and after you have a cold, flu, or sore throat.
  • Eat healthy foods. Avoid highly sugared, sticky foods. If you have deep gum pockets, avoid nuts and seeds.
  • Get regular dental exams and professional cleanings.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-02-03
Last reviewed: 2015-01-19
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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