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Gum disease

4-minute read

What is gum disease?

Gum disease occurs when the tissue that surrounds and supports the teeth becomes infected. It is very common in Australia, with 3 in every 10 adults having moderate to severe gum disease. Brushing your teeth and gums twice daily can help prevent gum disease.

Types of gum disease

There are 2 main types of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis.

Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease. It occurs when the gums become red and swollen. The gums may also bleed easily when they are brushed and it can cause bad breath. Gingivitis can be reversed by good mouth care.

If gingivitis is not treated, it may cause a more severe form of gum disease called periodontitis. Periodontitis may cause the area of the gum closest to the tooth to become weak. Spaces may form between the tooth and the gum, and these may trap germs, leading to even more swelling. Over time, the bone supporting the teeth can be lost, causing the teeth to become loose and possibly fall out.

What are the symptoms of gum disease?

The symptoms of gum disease include:

  • inflammation of the gums (redness and swelling)
  • bleeding gums when you brush the teeth
  • bad breath or a bad taste
  • gums that are receding
  • sensitive teeth
  • loose teeth

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the teeth and dental problems Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes gum disease?

Gum disease is caused by plaque, which is a sticky layer of germs that builds up on teeth. Plaque irritates the gums, causing them to bleed easily. If the plaque is not brushed off, it can become hard and further irritate the gums. Hardened plaque is called calculus or tartar. It can only be removed by a dental health professional.

People are more likely to develop gum disease if they:

  • smoke
  • take illicit drugs
  • are stressed
  • have diabetes or other diseases
  • are taking certain medications
  • have a genetic predisposition
  • have poor nutrition
  • are pregnant or going through puberty

When should I see my dentist?

You should see a dentist regularly for check-ups. See your dentist as soon as possible if you have swollen or bleeding gums, or if your teeth feel loose.

You can find a dentist here at the Australian Dental Association website.

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ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How is gum disease treated?

A dentist will examine the teeth and may need to take x-rays. They will probably clean all the plaque and tartar from the teeth and advise on how to clean the teeth well. It may also be necessary to treat the roots of the teeth to get rid of the germs.

You can help by cleaning your teeth well, not smoking and visiting your dentist regularly.

Can gum disease be cured?

Gingivitis can be cured without permanent damage. Periodontitis can't be cured, but it can be controlled. The bone loss may be very slow or stopped.

Can gum disease be prevented?

To prevent gum disease, gently brush your teeth and gums twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. Even if it causes bleeding, brush twice a day. You should also floss every day and visit your dentist regularly for a check-up and cleaning.

What are the complications of gum disease?

As well as harming the teeth, gum disease can affect health in other ways. There is growing evidence that gum disease is associated with:

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Last reviewed: January 2021

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