Also called periodontal disease, gum disease occurs when bacteria and tartar buildup at and below the gum line. As bacteria multiply, they release toxins that cause your gum tissue to pull away from the tooth surface and recede, or move backward along the tooth surface toward the root. Over time, bacteria can reach the roots of the tooth, causing infection and weakening the tooth roots, significantly increasing the risk of tooth loss.
Gum disease most commonly occurs as a result of poor oral hygiene habits, including brushing and flossing incorrectly, not brushing and flossing often enough, and not seeing the dentist for regular checkups. People with certain diseases like diabetes are at a greater risk for developing gum disease, and people with “toothy” smiles also tend to be at greater risk since tooth roots may become more easily exposed by advancing bacteria.
Gum disease is treated with special cleaning techniques called root scaling and planing that reach below the gum line to remove bacteria and tartar. Special antibiotics may also be applied to continue to kill bacteria and decrease the risk of recurrence. In patients with tooth smiles, gum grafts may be needed to supplement the gum tissue and help prevent root exposure.
The most important thing you can do to prevent gum disease is to see your dentist for routine checkups and cleanings. During your exam, the hygienist will be able to look for early signs of gum disease and treat them to help prevent the disease from progressing. The hygienist will also be able to give you pointers on how to improve your oral health habits to prevent tartar buildup along the gum line, eliminating areas where bacteria likes to hide and multiply.