Gum Disease – What is the big deal?

Bone loss

Digital x-ray showing extreme bone loss

Gum disease (known to dentists as periodontal disease) is one of the most common dental problems adults face, and it affects the attachment between your gums and your teeth. Progressing slowly and usually without causing any pain, you may not notice any signs until gum disease is advanced,  and you are in danger of losing teeth.

OK, so what causes gum disease?

Gum disease begins with plaque. Plaque is clear and sticky and contains germs (or bacteria). It forms on your teeth every day. It also forms where your teeth and your gums meet. If plaque is not removed every day by brushing and flossing, it hardens into tartar (also called calculus). Tartar cannot be removed by brushing and flossing. Tartar can lead to an infection at the point where the gums attach to the teeth (called the “point of attachment”). In these early stages, gum disease is called gingivitis. Your gums may be a bit red and bleed when you brush, but you may not notice anything else.

As gingivitis gets worse, tiny pockets of infection form at the “point of attachment.” You cannot see them, but you may notice puffy gums, traces of blood on your toothbrush, or a change in the color of your gums. Your gums will probably not be sore. Over time, however, the infection breaks down the gum tissue that attaches to the teeth. This is called “attachment loss.” At this point, you will notice swelling, bleeding or color changes in your gums. Along with “attachment loss,” gum disease causes the bone that holds your teeth in place to break down too. If gum disease is not treated, teeth become loose and in danger of falling out.

Are there other risks involved with gum disease?

Unfortunately, yes. Current research links uncontrolled gum disease with medical conditions like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and poor fetal development .

How can I prevent gum disease?

The best way to deal with gum disease is not to get it in the first place. You can help prevent gum disease by brushing at least 2 times per day for 2 minutes at a time, and flossing nightly. Most important is to use a soft-bristled toothbrush, and brush YOUR GUMS…the teeth will naturally get clean at the same time.  You can use a manual toothbrush, or a high quality electric toothbrush – one I really like is Sonicare.

What about treatment?

We evaluate all of our patients for signs of gum disease, and can make specific treatment recommendations after a careful and comprehensive examination.  Treatment might involve tweaking your home care regimen, more frequent visits to our office for gum therapy, or even painless laser therapy to better disinfect the pockets where bacteria like to live. You can be sure that healthier gums can be yours with proper care.

Dr. Andrea Stevens is a cosmetic and family dentist in practice in Kanata, Ontario. If you have dental questions, you can call her at 613-271-7091 or visit her at Please also feel free to leave comments or questions below, and Dr. Stevens will be happy to answer!