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NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Gum disease, also known as gingivitis and periodontal disease, is where the gums become

swollen, sore or 



Gum disease is very common, affecting 15-20% of the world's population. In the UK, the number of people with gum disease is much higher.

It is estimated that half the adult population has some degree of gum disease and most people experience it at least once. It is much less common in children.

If you have gum disease, your  gums may bleed when you brush your teeth and you may have bad breath.

In severe cases of gum disease, a condition called periodontitis can develop. It affects the tissues that support teeth and hold them in place. In the UK, 10-15% of adults have severe periodontitis, with many more being affected by mild to moderate levels.

If periodontitis is not treated, the bone in your jaw can decay and small spaces can open up between the gum and teeth. Your teeth can become loose and may eventually fall out.

Read more about the symptoms of gum disease.

What causes gum disease?

Gum disease is caused by a build-up of plaque on the teeth. Plaque is a sticky substance that contains bacteria.

Some bacteria in plaque is harmless, but some is very harmful for the health of your gums. If you do not remove plaque from your teeth by brushing them, it will build up and irritate your gums, leading to inflammation and soreness.

Read more about the causes of gum disease.

When to see your dentist

You should make an appointment to see your dentist if your gums are painful, inflamed or if they bleed when you brush your teeth.

You can  find a dentist near you by using the post code search facility.

Preventing and treating gum disease

Mild cases of gum disease can usually be treated or 'reversed' by maintaining a good level of oral hygiene. This includes brushing your teeth using an effective technique at least twice a day and flossing daily.

If necessary, your dentist will be able to give your teeth a thorough clean and remove any hardened plaque ( tartar). They will also be able to show you how to clean your teeth effectively to help prevent plaque building up in the future.

If you have severe gum disease, you will need to have further non-surgical treatment and, in some cases, surgical treatment. This will usually be carried out by a specialist in periodontics.

Read more about treating gum disease and how to keep your teeth clean. Also, read more about preventing gum disease.

Complications of gum disease

If you have untreated gum disease that develops into periodontitis, it can lead to further complications such as:

  • gum abscesses (painful collections of pus)
  • damage to the periodontal ligament (the tissue that connects the tooth to the socket)
  • damage to the alveolar bone (the bone in the jaw that contains the sockets of the teeth)
  • receding gums
  • loose teeth
  • loss of teeth

Read more about the complications of gum disease.

Medical Review: March 21, 2012

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