Updated on May 9, 2024
8 min read

What is Gum Disease: How To Prevent and Treat It

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What is Gum Disease? 

Gum disease, or periodontal disease, is an inflammatory condition of the gums and other tissues surrounding the teeth. These tissues, collectively known as the periodontium, encompass:1

  • Your gums (gingiva)
  • The outer parts of your tooth roots (cementum)
  • The bone sockets your teeth sit in (alveolar bone) 
  • The ligaments connecting your teeth to their sockets (periodontal ligament) 
Gingivitis inflammation of the gums causing loose teeth medically accurate 3D render

Early-stage gum disease, or gingivitis, can cause swelling and bleeding of the gums. In some cases, gingivitis progresses into periodontitis. This advanced stage affects the bone holding the teeth, leading to tooth loss and contributing to systemic disease. 2,3

What Causes Gum Disease?

There are many contributing gum disease risk factors. The most significant factor is your mouth’s diverse array of bacteria and fungi.

The presence of some oral organisms is normal and natural and can have a protective effect against foreign bacteria. But if poor oral hygiene causes an imbalance in the oral microflora, 

gum disease can occur.

The common causes of gum disease include:

  • Poor oral care
  • Diabetes
  • Certain medications
  • Poor diet
  • Bacteria from shared utensils
  • Smoking
  • Psychological stress
  • Hormonal changes (e.g., during pregnancy)
  • Poor immune function
  • Vitamin deficiencies

Gingivitis vs. Periodontitis

Whitney DiFoggio, RDH, BS, explains the distinction between the two stages of gum disease:

Gingivitis

Poor oral hygiene primarily causes gingivitis, which allows oral bacteria to cause inflammation of the gums. These bacteria form plaque, which hardens into tartar and causes bone loss. 

Gingivitis inflammation of the gums dental 3D illustration

“Gingivitis is the lowest stage of gum disease where the edges of the gingiva (gums) are inflamed and swollen, but everything underneath the gums, including the bone, is still intact. Gingivitis is reversible,” DiFoggio notes. She warns that if gingivitis remains untreated, it can progress into a more severe form of gum disease.

Gingivitis Symptoms

The most common gingivitis gum disease symptoms include:

  • Red gums
  • Swollen gums
  • Itchy gums
  • Tender gums
  • Bleeding gums, especially during brushing or flossing
  • Spitting out blood after brushing or flossing
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Persistent bad taste in the mouth

Periodontitis

Periodontitis always starts as gingivitis, making poor oral hygiene a critical factor in its development. Tobacco smoking is another significant risk factor for advanced gum disease due to decreased blood flow to the gums. 

Healthy tooth and unhealthy tooth with periodontitis comparison illustration

“Once it advances to periodontitis, the condition is no longer reversible. This is because the tissues begin to pull away from the tooth, leading to the bone beneath shrinking,” DiFoggio elaborates.

“Periodontitis varies in severity, ranging from mild to intense, based on the health of the gum tissue and the degree of bone loss.” A study found that smokers had nearly double the rate of moderate to severe periodontitis when compared to nonsmokers.4

Periodontitis Symptoms

Black trinagles between teeth 3d render showing gaps

The symptoms of gingivitis above can also occur in periodontitis. Other symptoms of more advanced gum disease include:

  • Deep spaces or pockets between your teeth and gums due to lost connective tissue (attachment loss)
  • Loose teeth
  • Increased tooth sensitivity due to gum recession 
  • Pain while chewing
  • Food getting stuck between teeth
  • Bite changes

How Do Gingivitis and Periodontitis Differ in Impact?

In early or mild gum disease, only your gums are inflamed. In periodontitis, the other three tissues also suffer.

While gingivitis doesn’t always lead to periodontitis, gingivitis always precedes periodontitis. Furthermore, periodontitis leads to tissue destruction, setting it apart from gingivitis.

What are Gum Disease Complications?

Untreated gum disease can cause tooth and bone loss. Uncontrolled infection can also increase your risk for other systemic diseases, including cardiovascular and lung disease.

Other complications of untreated gum disease include:

  • Loose teeth
  • Large ulcers (sores) in the gum tissue
  • Recurrent gum abscess (collection of pus)
  • Damage to the jaw bone
  • Receding gums

How Common is Gum Disease?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):4

  • 47.2% of adults aged 30 years and older have some form of periodontal disease
  • Periodontal disease increases with age; 70.1% of adults 65 years and older have it

Periodontal disease is more common in men than women (56.4% vs 38.4%), those living below the federal poverty level (65.4%), those with less than a high school education (66.9%), and current smokers (64.2%).

How to Prevent Gum Disease 

To maintain healthy gums and prevent gum disease, consider the following measures:

  • Regularly brush to keep oral bacteria in check
  • Floss regularly to disrupt plaque before it becomes tartar
  • Ensure adequate intake of vitamins and other nutrients to reduce or prevent inflammation 
  • Limit the intake of simple carbohydrates, which are a significant fuel source for plaque-forming bacteria
  • Avoid smoking
  • Maintain good overall health

Diagnosing & Treating Gum Disease

Your dentist can diagnose gum disease by examining your mouth. They may take X-rays and measure the pocket depth between your gums and teeth to determine the extent of attachment loss.

They’ll also review your medical history to see whether the following may be contributing factors:

  • Any medications
  • Bad habits like smoking
  • Pre-existing conditions like diabetes 

How to Treat Gum Disease

Good oral hygiene can generally reverse gingivitis. However, periodontitis is irreversible. In some cases, you can slow it down, and treatment can repair tissue damage.

The primary goal of treating gum disease is to remove tartar buildup to prevent bacteria from spreading and causing bone loss. The type of gum disease treatment varies depending on the severity of the disease, including non-surgical and surgical therapies. 

Non-Surgical Treatments for Gum Disease

The most common non-surgical treatments for gum disease include: 

1. Deep Cleaning (Scaling and Root Planing)

Deep cleaning involves removing plaque and tartar from the gums with scaling and root planing.

Ultrasonic teeth cleaning machine removing tartar or dental calculus

Scaling is scraping the tartar from above and below the gum line. 

Root planing removes rough tartar spots from the tooth’s root where disease-causing bacteria gather. Deep cleaning can cause bleeding, gum swelling, and discomfort. 

2. Medications

Medications treat pain and control infection. They’re also effective in combination with surgical gum disease treatments. 

Common medications that treat gum disease include:

  • Prescription antimicrobial mouth rinse ⁠— To control bacteria after gum surgery
  • Antibiotic gel after deep cleaning ⁠— To reduce the size of periodontal pockets
  • Antiseptic chip after root planing ⁠— To reduce the size of periodontal pockets
  • Enzyme suppressants ⁠— To restrain the body’s enzyme response, thereby preventing the breakdown of gum tissue
  • Oral antibiotics ⁠— To treat periodontal infections in the short-term  

3. Laser Treatment

3d render of dental diode laser used to treat gum disease

Laser treatment removes plaque and tartar from the gum line as an alternative to deep cleaning. Laser treatment decreases the chance of swelling, bleeding, and discomfort associated with scaling and root planing. 

Surgical Treatments for Gum Disease 

Gum disease surgery may be required if deep cleaning and medication can’t control the infection. It may also be necessary if gum disease is severe and deep pockets remain. 

1. Flap Surgery 

Flap surgery removes tartar under the gums, then sutures them back in place. This ensures the gum tissue is tight against the tooth and reduces the size of periodontal pockets. Cleaning and maintaining healthy gums are easier after this surgery.

2. Bone Grafts

Gum disease can lead to bone loss around the tooth root. A bone graft involves placing natural or synthetic bone to stimulate regrowth where the bone is lost.

3. Soft Tissue Grafts

Gum disease also destroys soft tissue. A soft tissue graft uses a synthetic mesh material or natural tissue from your mouth to cover exposed tooth roots. This process helps reduce gum recession and improves the appearance of your smile.

4. Guided Tissue Regeneration 

Guided tissue regeneration is a bone grafting technique. It involves placing a mesh-like material in between the bone and connective tissue to prevent tissue from growing where the bone should be. 

According to Dr. Khushbu Gopalakrishnan, one of NewMouth’s in-house dentists, “new surgical therapies are emerging for periodontitis, including LANAP, that you may want to discuss with your dentist. Don’t be disheartened by your diagnosis, and work with your dentist to maintain your natural teeth for as long as possible.”

Can Gum Disease Cause Other Health Problems?

Bacteria causing gum disease can enter the bloodstream, spreading to other body parts. Periodontitis also increases inflammatory markers in the bloodstream, a risk factor for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Gum disease also increases the risk of:

  • Pneumonia
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Preeclampsia (a potentially dangerous pregnancy complication involving high blood pressure)
  • Pre-term labor
  • Low-birthweight in babies
  • Infertility
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Alzheimer’s disease

Tooth and bone tissue loss can result from untreated periodontal disease. It can also cause stroke, high blood pressure, and cognitive issues in older people.

How Much Does Gum Disease Treatment Cost?

The cost to treat gum disease varies depending on the severity of the disease, the geographical location of treatment, and if you have dental insurance. Depending on these factors, gum disease treatment can range from $500 to $10,000.5 

After gum disease treatment, you may also need maintenance therapies that add to the cost. The estimated price for these procedures are:

  • Regular dental screenings — Between $30 and $75
  • Scaling and root planing — Between $140 and $210
  • Periodontal maintenance after initial treatment — Averages $115
  • Locally administered antibiotic treatment Averages $75 per tooth

After an initial diagnosis, a dentist might refer you to a periodontist (a dentist specializing in gum disease) for further treatment and evaluation. 

Listen In Q&A Format

Gum Disease – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment
NewMouth Podcast

Summary

Oral bacteria cause gum disease, which forms a biofilm that eventually causes inflammation. Early-stage gum disease, or gingivitis, only affects the gums and may or may not progress to a more advanced disease.

Advanced gum disease, or periodontitis, affects the deeper tissues of the periodontium. It can cause tooth loss and systemic health complications.

Gingivitis is reversible, but periodontitis isn’t, although it’s treatable. Good oral hygiene and overall health, a balanced diet, and avoiding tobacco help prevent gum disease.

Last updated on May 9, 2024
15 Sources Cited
Last updated on May 9, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
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  2. Gingivitis.” Mayo Clinic, 2017.
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  4. Periodontal Disease.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013.
  5. Gum Disease: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatments.” Consumer Guide to Dentistry.
  6. Arweiler et al. “The Oral Microbiota.” Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 2016.
  7. Dahlen et al. “Current concepts and an alternative perspective on periodontal disease.” BMC Oral Health, 2020.
  8. Preshaw et al. “Periodontitis and diabetes: a two-way relationship.” Diabetologia, 2012.
  9. Najeeb et al. “The Role of Nutrition in Periodontal Health: An Update.” Nutrients, 2016.
  10. Steier et al. “Bacteriophages in Dentistry-State of the Art and Perspectives.” Dentistry Journal, 2019.
  11. Martin-Cabezas et al. “Association between periodontitis and arterial hypertension: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” American Heart Journal, 2016.
  12. Noble et al. “Periodontitis is associated with cognitive impairment among older adults: analysis of NHANES-III.” Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, 2011.
  13. Woelber et al. “An oral health optimized diet can reduce gingival and periodontal inflammation in humans – a randomized controlled pilot study.” BMC Oral Health, 2016.
  14. Corliss, J. “Treating gum disease may lessen the burden of heart disease, diabetes, other conditions.” Harvard Health Publishing, 2014.
  15. Saini et al. “Periodontitis: A risk factor to respiratory diseases.” Lung India, 2010.
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