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.

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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

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.

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