Contact your healthcare provider or local health department if you are at risk for coronavirus (COVID-19). To help reduce the spread of COVID-19, please avoid the emergency department except in the event of an emergency. | Learn More
View All Services
Find a New Primary Care Provider
Search by Specialty
View All Locations
Discover classes, events, tours, and groups that fit your interests.
Home > Be Healthy > Health Library > Gum Disease
Gum disease is an infection of the tissues and bones that surround and support the teeth. It is also called periodontal disease.
There are two types of gum disease:
Gum disease is caused by the growth of germs called bacteria on the teeth and gums. Bacteria are present in plaque, a clear, sticky substance that your mouth produces.
Things that make you more likely to get gum disease include:
Healthy gums are pink and firm, fit snugly around the teeth, and do not bleed easily. Gingivitis causes:
Gingivitis usually isn't painful, so you may not notice the symptoms and may not get the treatment you need.
In periodontitis, the symptoms are easier to see, such as:
If you think you have gum disease, see your dentist right away. Early treatment can keep it from getting worse.
To find out if you have gum disease, your dentist or dental hygienist will do an exam to look for:
Your dentist or dental hygienist may take X-rays of your teeth to look for bone damage and other problems.
Early treatment of gum disease is very important. It can help prevent permanent gum damage, control infection, and prevent tooth loss. For treatment to work:
For gingivitis, your dentist may prescribe antibiotics to help fight the infection. They can be put directly on the gums, swallowed as pills or capsules, or swished around your teeth as mouthwash. Your dentist may also recommend an antibacterial toothpaste that reduces plaque and gingivitis when used regularly.
For periodontitis, your dentist or dental hygienist may clean your teeth using a method called root planing and scaling. This removes the plaque and tartar buildup both above and below the gum line.
You may need surgery if these treatments don't control the infection or if you have severe damage to your gums or teeth. Surgery options include:
After surgery, you may need to take antibiotics or other medicines to aid healing and prevent infection.
After treatment, keep your mouth disease-free by brushing and flossing to prevent plaque buildup. Your dentist will probably prescribe an antibacterial mouthwash.
Gum disease is most common in adults, but it can affect anyone, even children. So good dental habits are important throughout your life.
Other Works Consulted
Famili P, et al. (2007). The effect of androgen deprivation therapy on periodontal disease in men with prostate cancer. Journal of Urology, 177(3): 921–924.
Hodges KO (2009). Periodontal diseases. In NO Harris et al., eds., Primary Preventive Dentistry, 7th ed., pp. 46–66. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Robinson PG, et al. (2005). Manual versus powered toothbrushing for oral health. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2). Oxford: Update Software.
Task Force on Periodontal Treatment of Pregnant Women (2004). American Academy of Periodontology statement regarding periodontal management of the pregnant patient. Journal of Periodontology, 75(3): 495.
Current as of: July 28, 2019
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Adam Husney, MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: July 28, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2020 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.