Gum Disease: Symptoms & Signs

Medically Reviewed on 9/10/2019

Gum disease is inflammation of the gums. Gum disease can also be referred to as periodontal (around the teeth) disease, periodontitis (inflammation of areas around the teeth), and gingivitis (inflammation of the gums). Gingivitis and periodontitis are two different types of gum disease that vary in severity. Mild gum disease (gingivitis) simply causes redness or occasional bleeding during toothbrushing. In more serious cases of gum disease, there is damage to the soft tissues and bones that support the teeth (periodontitis), leading to separation of the teeth from the gums. The separated areas, or pockets, easily become irritated and inflamed. Severe cases of gum disease can result in tooth loss.

Causes of gum disease

Improper dental hygiene is a major cause of gum disease. The normal, healthy mouth contains many bacteria. These bacteria form plaque on the teeth that can harden to form tartar (also called calculus) when not removed by proper brushing and flossing. Plaque and tartar cause inflammation of the surrounding tissues. There are several conditions that can result in an increased risk for gum disease, including cigarette smoking, diabetes, AIDS, hormonal changes in women (in puberty, pregnancy, or around menopause), and any condition that weakens the immune system.

Another type of gum disease is caused by infections. Acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG, also known as trench mouth) is an acute infectious gingivitis.

Other gum disease symptoms and signs

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.