Gum Disease

If you have been told you have periodontal (gum) disease, you’re not alone. Many adults in the U.S. currently have some form of the disease. Periodontal diseases range from simple gum inflammation to serious disease that results in major damage to the soft tissue and bone that support the teeth. In the worst cases, teeth are lost.

Whether your gum disease is stopped, slowed, or gets worse depends a great deal on how well you care for your teeth and gums every day, from this point forward.

What Causes Gum Disease?

Our mouths are full of bacteria. These bacteria, along with mucus and other particles, constantly form a sticky, colorless “plaque” on teeth. Brushing and flossing help get rid of plaque. Plaque that is not removed can harden and form “tartar” that brushing doesn’t clean. Only a professional cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist can remove tartar.

The Three Stages of Gum Disease

Gingivitis:  This is the first stage of gum disease.


The longer plaque and tartar are on teeth, the more harmful they become. The bacteria cause inflammation of the gums that is called “gingivitis.” In gingivitis, the gums become red, swollen and can bleed easily. Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that can usually be reversed with daily brushing and flossing, and regular cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist. This form of gum disease does not include any loss of bone and tissue that hold teeth in place.


Periodontitis:  This is the second stage of gum disease.


When gingivitis is not treated, it can advance to “periodontitis” (which means “inflammation around the tooth”). In periodontitis, gums pull away from the teeth and form spaces (called “pockets”) that become infected. The body’s immune system fights the bacteria as the plaque spreads and grows below the gum line.



Advanced Periodontitis:  This is the final stage of gum disease.


Bacterial toxins and the body’s natural response to infection start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place. If not treated, the bones, gums, and tissue that support the teeth are destroyed. The teeth may eventually become loose and have to be removed.



Risk Factors

  • Smoking.  Need another reason to quit smoking? Smoking is one of the most significant risk factors associated with the development of gum disease. Additionally, smoking can lower the chances for successful treatment.
  • Hormonal changes in girls/women. These changes can make gums more sensitive and make it easier for gingivitis to develop.
  • Diabetes. People with diabetes are at higher risk for developing infections, including gum disease.
  • Other illnesses. Diseases like cancer or AIDS and their treatments can also negatively affect the health of gums.
  • Medications. There are hundreds of prescription and over the counter medications that can reduce the flow of saliva, which has a protective effect on the mouth. Without enough saliva, the mouth is vulnerable to infections such as gum disease. And some medicines can cause abnormal overgrowth of the gum tissue; this can make it difficult to keep teeth and gums clean.
  • Genetic susceptibility. Some people are more prone to severe gum disease than others.

How do I know if I have Gum Disease?

  • Constant bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth
  • Gums that bleed or are red, puffy, swollen, or sore
  • Gums that have pulled away from your teeth
  • Changes in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  • Pus that appears between your teeth and gums

What should I do if I have Gum Disease?

The main goal of treatment is getting the infection under control.  Treatment will vary depending on the stage of gum disease.

  • Get regular checkups.  It’s the best way to discover and treat early gum disease.
  • A special rinse may be prescribed to help fight gingivitis.
  • Do not smoke cigarettes or use other forms of tobacco.
  • The only way to remove plaque that has built up and hardened into tartar is for your dental professional to clean or “scale” your teeth.

Scaling and Root Planning (Deep Cleaning)

The dentist, periodontist, or dental hygienist removes the plaque through a deep-cleaning method called scaling and root planing. Scaling means scraping off the tartar from above and below the gum line. Root planing gets rid of rough spots on the tooth root where the germs gather, and helps remove bacteria that contribute to the disease. In some cases a laser may be used to remove plaque and tartar. This procedure can result in less bleeding, swelling, and discomfort compared to traditional deep cleaning methods.

How can I keep my Teeth and Gums Healthy?

  • Brush your teeth twice a day (with a fluoride toothpaste).
  • Floss regularly to remove plaque from between teeth. Or use a device such as a special brush or wooden or plastic pick recommended by a dental professional.
  • Visit the dentist routinely for a check-up and professional cleaning.
  • Don’t smoke!


  •  Brush for 2 minutes twice daily with a soft-bristled toothbrush
  • To clean outer surfaces, hold the toothbrush with the tapered bristles at a 45 degree angle and sweep or roll away from the gumline.
  • To clean the inner back teeth, place the toothbrush bristles next to the gumline and brush with a circular motion.
  • To clean the inner front tooth surfaces, brush with small, up and down motions, using the tip of the brush.
  • To clean chewing surfaces, brush gently backwards and forwards, using the raised tip to reach the back teeth.

For great demonstration videos for adults and kids please click here.


  • Use about 18# of floss, leaving an inch or 2 to work with.
  • Slide the floss gently up and down in between teeth, gently following the curves of your teeth.
  • Be sure to clean beneath the gumline, but avoid snapping the floss on the gums.