Periodontal disease is an infection of the gum tissues (it is also called gum disease). Periodontal diseases range from simple gum inflammation to serious disease that results in major damage to the soft tissue and bone that support the teeth. In the worst cases, teeth are lost.

Whether your gum disease is stopped, slowed, or gets worse depends a great deal on how well you care for your teeth and gums every day, from this point forward.

Our mouths are full of bacteria. These bacteria, along with mucus and other particles, constantly form a sticky, colorless plaque on teeth. Brushing and flossing help get rid of plaque. Plaque that is not removed can harden and form tartar that brushing doesn’t clean. Only a professional cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist can remove tartar.

The longer plaque and tartar are on teeth, the more harmful they become. The bacteria cause inflammation of the gums, also known as gingivitis. In gingivitis, the gums become red, swollen and can bleed easily. Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that can usually be reversed with daily brushing and flossing and regular cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist. This form of gum disease does not include any loss of bone and tissue that hold teeth in place.

When gingivitis is not treated, it can advance to periodontitis (inflammation around the tooth). In periodontitis, gums pull away from the teeth and form spaces that become infected. The body’s immune system fights the bacteria as the plaque spreads and grows below the gum line. Toxins produced by the bacteria in plaque irritate the gums. The toxins stimulate a chronic inflammatory response in which the body, in essence, turns on itself, and the tissues and bone that support the teeth are broken down and destroyed. Gums separate from the teeth, forming pockets (spaces between the teeth and gums) that become infected. As the disease progresses, the pockets deepen and more gum tissue and bone are destroyed. Often, this destructive process has very mild symptoms. Eventually, teeth can become loose and may have to be removed.

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