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Gum disease (also called periodontal disease) is an infection of the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth.  It is a major cause of tooth loss in adults. Because gum disease is usually painless, you may not know you have it.  This is why regular dental checkups are important!

Although you may think your gum tissue is attached to the teeth, it actually is not.  There is a very shallow v-shaped crevice called a sulcus between the tooth and gums.  Generally, gum diseases attack just below the gum line in the sulcus, where they cause the attachment of the tooth and its supporting tissues to break down.  As the gums become damaged, the sulcus develops into a pocket that will continually become deeper with the severity of disease – the end result being the loss of teeth.   

Gum disease is caused by plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that constantly forms on the teeth.  These bacteria create toxins that can damage the gums.  However, other factors can affect the health of your gums, and they include:

Smoking – smoking increases the risk of gum disease.  Smoking may be responsible for more than half of the cases of periodontal disease among adults in the United States. Genetics - Research has shown that up to 30% of the population may be genetically susceptible to gum disease. Pregnancy – The accompanying changes in a woman’s hormonal schedule due to pregnancy can affect many of the tissues in your body, including your gums.  Your gums can become sensitive, and at times react strongly to the hormonal fluctuations. This may make you more susceptible to gum disease.  Additionally, recent studies suggest that pregnant women with gum disease are seven times more likely to deliver pre-term, low birth weight babies. Stress – Since stress compromises the immune system, it is logical that it is more difficult to fight off infections associates with gum disease. Medications - Some drugs, such as oral contraceptives, anti-depressants, and certain heart medicines, can affect your oral health. Teeth Grinding (Bruxism) - Clenching or grinding your teeth puts excess force on the supporting tissues of the teeth.  This could accelerate the rate at which these periodontal tissues are destroyed. Poor Nutrition – A diet low in important nutrients can compromise the body's immune system and make it harder for the body to fight off infection.  This makes it more difficult to fight of infections related to gum disease.

Periodontal diseases are classified according to the severity of the disease. The two major stages are gingivitis and periodontitis.

Gingivitis is a milder and reversible form of periodontal disease that only affects the gums.  It causes the gums to become red, swollen, and bleed easily. There is usually little or no discomfort at this stage. Gingivitis is reversible with professional treatment and good at home oral care – daily brushing and flossing.

Untreated gingivitis can advance to a more serious and destructive form of gum disease, Periodontitis.  With time, plaque can spread and grow below the gum line.  The toxins they produce stimulate a chronic inflammatory response in which the tissues and bone that support the teeth are broken down and destroyed.  In periodontitis, unremoved plaque hardens into tartar.  As plaque and tarter continue to build up, the gums begin to recede from the teeth, and pockets form between the teeth and gums.  With advanced periodontitis, the gums recede farther, destroying more bone and the periodontal ligament.  Teeth may become loose and will require extraction. 

If you notice any of the following signs of gum disease, see your dentist immediately:

Gums that bleed when you brush your teeth Red, swollen or tender gums Gums that have pulled away from the teeth Bad breath that doesn't go away Pus between your teeth and gums Loose teeth A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite A change in the fit of partial dentures
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