Gum Problems

  • Medical Author:
    Donna S. Bautista, DDS

    Dr. Donna S. Bautista, DDS, completed her undergraduate studies at the University of California, San Diego with a bachelor of arts in biochemistry and cell biology. During her time at UC San Diego, she was involved in basic research including studying processes related to DNA transcription in the field of molecular biology. Upon graduation, she went on to attend dental school at the University of California, San Francisco. In addition to her formal dental training, she provided dental care for underserved communities in the Bay Area through clinics and health fairs. She also worked toward mentoring high school students interested in the field of dentistry.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Shocking Diseases of the Mouth

Quick GuideDental Health: Top Problems in Your Mouth

Dental Health: Top Problems in Your Mouth

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. The bacteria in plaque produce harmful toxins that create an inflammatory process that occurs 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 this 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.

A common adult gum problem 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 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 and causes pain and swelling.

A less common gum problem is oral cancer. Oral cancer can occur on all soft-tissue structures within the mouth. On the gums, it may appear as a red or white patch or a sore that does not heal.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/2/2015

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