Gum disease is a bacterial infection. Treatment can help.

Gum disease—also known as periodontal disease—is a bacterial infection that can harm the gums and the bone that support your teeth. Understanding how gum disease happens can help make your treatment goals clearer.

Plaque buildup starts above the gums

The bacteria in our mouths are constantly creating a sticky substance called plaque that clings to the surface of the teeth. Daily brushing and flossing can remove most plaque. But plaque that remains will gradually harden into a tougher substance called tartar, which brushing cannot remove. Only a professional cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist can remove tartar.

Infection can spread lower, forming pockets

Without treatment, the gums can begin to pull away from the teeth, creating pockets of diseased tissue. This allows bacteria to spread to the roots of the teeth, which can make pockets even deeper. Over time, the bones, gums, and connective tissue that support the teeth can be permanently damaged. Eventually, unsupported teeth can become loose and will need to be removed.

Gum disease does not have to get that far. With timely treatment, you and your dental professional can target the infection, which will help your gums to heal, get stronger, and hold your teeth more securely.

Buildup can lead to gum infection

If bacterial plaque on teeth is not removed, the gums can become infected and inflamed. This is gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease. In this early stage, infected gums may be bright red and swollen; gum bleeding can also occur. The good news: Gingivitis can often be reversed with professional cleanings and good at-home care.

Pocket depth: A measure of gum health

Your dental professional measures pocket depth with a tiny probe. A pocket of 4 mm or more may be a sign of gum disease. Over time, pockets that grow deeper may indicate gum disease that is getting worse. And pockets that become less deep can be a positive sign that your treatment is working.


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