Periodontal Disease: How to Protect Your Teeth and Gums

Millions of people have periodontal (gum) disease and many don't even know they have it. Are you one of them?

Periodontal disease is an infection of the tissues that support your teeth. It is caused by the plaque-forming bacteria in your mouth. While brushing and flossing removes most plaque, it is impossible to remove all of it. The remaining plaque hardens into tartar. When this tartar forms under the gumline, it can irritate and infect the gums, leading to gum disease.

The good news is that periodontal disease is easily preventable. The Pennsylvania Dental Association (PDA) reminds the public about the importance of maintaining healthy teeth and gums.

Periodontal disease has two stages: gingivitis and periodontitis. The first stage, gingivitis, is the early stage of periodontal disease, where the bacteria get in between the tooth and gum, causing inflammation. During this early stage, daily brushing and flossing can likely reverse periodontal disease.

If left untreated, periodontitis, the more advanced stage of periodontal disease, can develop, causing irreversible damage to the gums, teeth and surrounding bones. Periodontitis is more serious because the tissue that holds the teeth to the bone is destroyed, causing tooth roots to be exposed and increasing decay, inflammation and receding gums, resulting in possible tooth loss.

There are several factors that can increase your risk of developing periodontal disease, including the use of tobacco; certain systematic diseases, such as diabetes; some types of medication, including steroids and various anti-epilepsy drugs, cancer therapy drugs, calcium channel blockers and oral contraceptives; bridges that no longer fit properly; crooked teeth; fillings that have become defective and pregnancy.

"Researchers have found that people with gum disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease," said Dr. David Shemo, a PDA member and general dentist from Wilkes-Barre. "Their theory is that oral bacteria can affect the heart when it enters the blood stream, attaching to fatty plaques in the heart's blood vessels and contributing to clot formation."

PDA offers the following tips to maintain optimal dental health and prevent periodontal disease:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily. Brushing and flossing helps to remove the plaque and food particles from the surface of the teeth and between the teeth where a toothbrush can't reach. Replace your toothbrush every few months or when the bristles become frayed or worn. Using a fluoride toothpaste and antibacterial mouthrinse is another way to help keep tooth decay at bay.
  • Eat a nutritious and well-balanced diet. Choose a variety of nutritious foods from the five main food groups: grain, dairy, fruits, vegetables and meat/poultry.
  • Visit the dentist at least every six months for oral health checkups and professional cleaning.
  • Contact your dentist immediately if you notice any symptoms of periodontal disease, as early detection is key. Symptoms of periodontal disease include red, swollen or tender gums or gums that bleed easily or are pulling away from the teeth; chronic bad breath or bad taste in the mouth; permanent teeth that are loose or separating; pus appearing between the teeth and gums when gums are pressed; changes in teeth alignment when you bite and changes in the fit of partial dentures.
View more information about periodontal disease and what you can do to keep your teeth and gums healthy.

About the Pennsylvania Dental Association
Founded in 1868, the Pennsylvania Dental Association (PDA) is comprised of approximately 6,000 member dentists. It is a constituency of the American Dental Association (ADA), the largest and oldest national dental society in the world. PDA’s mission is to improve the public health, promote the art and science of dentistry and represent the interests of its member dentists and their patients. PDA is the voice of dentistry in Pennsylvania. Learn more about PDA.