Gum Problems

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Gum health introduction

Our gums (or "gingiva") act as an important barrier in protecting our teeth and their surrounding support structures. A little known fact is that gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults. Strong healthy teeth are dependent on healthy gums. The main culprit for gum problems is bacteria in dental plaque. (Bacteria in plaque produce harmful toxins that create an inflammatory process in the gum tissue.) If left for a long enough period of time, bacterial plaque causes damage to our teeth as well as our gums.

What are common gum problems?

The most common gum problem is gingivitis and is found in over 50% of the adult U.S. population. Gingivitis is defined as inflammation of the gums. Signs of gum inflammation include bleeding during tooth-brushing, swollen-looking gums, and red gums. Healthy gums generally appear firm, coral-pink, and do not bleed with stimulation. Gums can appear dark from pigmentation in certain ethnic populations and is considered normal.

The second most common gum problem is gum disease, also called "periodontitis." More than 25% of the adult U.S. population suffers from gum disease. Periodontitis exhibits similar signs to gingivitis except it also can result in gum tissue and jawbone loss. The damage of periodontitis is particularly concerning in that the loss of gum tissue and bone loss cannot be recovered. Periodontitis typically progresses over time and may not produce painful symptoms until the disease reaches the later stages of damage. Unfortunately, this explains why gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss.

Another gum problem that is seen in adults is gum recession. Gum recession is when the root of the tooth becomes exposed as gum pulls away from its original attachment. This could be a result of gum disease as the jawbone surrounding the teeth is lost. Wherever jawbone is lost, gums will follow, and this exposes the root of the tooth. Exposed roots can be sensitive to temperature, are more prone to decay, and can present a cosmetic concern. Other causes for gum recession include teeth grinding, use of chewing tobacco, brushing too aggressively, hereditary weak gums, orthodontic treatment, or trauma.

Another gum problem, albeit less common, is a gum abscess (or "periodontal abscess"). It presents as a blister or a bump in the gum that contains pus. It is caused by a bacterial infection that takes place in a deep gum pocket causing pain and swelling.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/11/2014

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