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What is gum disease?

Posted on December 3, 2021 in Dental Health

Woman dentist treating patient

Gum disease refers to infections of the gum and bone tissues that surround your teeth. This kind of infection is also known by the technical names of gingivitis and periodontal disease. Gum diseases are generally caused by poor oral health habits that allow a buildup of sticky, bacteria-filled plaque to accumulate on the teeth. If allowed to remain long enough, the bacteria releases toxins that infect the gum and eventually affect the bone supporting the teeth.1

This infection typically causes irritation, redness and swelling along the gum line. If plaque is not removed from the teeth daily, then minerals in your saliva can transform that plaque into tartar. The presence of tartar can make it very difficult to clean your teeth properly and increase your likelihood of developing periodontal disease.2

While improper oral health habits are a main cause of gum disease, a complex mix of genetic, systemic, local, and environmental factors also play a role in its development and progression.

Types of gum disease

There are two main types of gum disease. This includes:


Gingivitis is the mildest form of gum disease and is usually the result of improper oral hygiene habits. While, typically, people experience very little or no discomfort, gingivitis causes inflammation of the soft tissue surrounding your teeth. Generally, your gums will become red, swell, and bleed easily. Gingivitis can be localized to one or more teeth or may affect the entire mouth.

The good news is, gingivitis is usually reversible. To remedy this infection, simply improve your oral health habits and at-home oral care routine. It is equally important to continue - or start - regularly visiting the dentist for professional cleanings as a dental professional can help to remove tartar that may be building upon your teeth and can help to identify early indicators of gum disease. It is important to note that, if left untreated, gingivitis can progress to a more serious form of gum disease, periodontitis.


Periodontitis is a more advanced stage of gum disease in which the infection spreads beyond the gum line and irreversibly destroys the bone tissue that supports the teeth. During this process, gums become unattached from the tooth root and invading bacteria causes an inflammatory response that results in the destruction of gum tissue and the loosening of teeth from the bone. In some cases, periodontitis can also result in tooth loss.

Periodontitis is often categorized as mild, moderate, or severe, based on how much bone has been lost and if the inflammation is localized to one or more teeth or has spread throughout the mouth. When gum disease becomes this advanced, it becomes nearly impossible for an individual to clean their teeth properly below the gum line and professional care becomes necessary. Once you have progressed to periodontitis, continuous professional maintenance will always be required to prevent the disease from worsening.


1Kinane, D. F. (2002, January 13). Causation and pathogenesis of periodontal disease. Retrieved from

2Gum (Periodontal) Disease Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment. (n.d.). Retrieved from

3American Academy of Periodontology. (n.d.). Types of Gum Disease. Retrieved from

4Gingivitis and periodontitis: Overview. (2020, February 27). Retrieved from

5American Academy of Periodontology. (n.d.). Gum Disease Symptoms. Retrieved from

6American Academy of Periodontology. (n.d.). PREVENTING PERIODONTAL DISEASE. Retrieved from