Periodontal disease, more commonly known as gum disease, can cause bleeding gums, bad breath, and if left untreated, lead to tooth loss. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found almost half (47%) of US adults age 30 and older have some form of periodontal disease, with 64% of adults over 65 having either moderate or severe periodontitis. And it’s not just about tooth loss; periodontal disease has been linked to several serious conditions including COVID-19, diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.
Gum disease is caused when bacteria in plaque (a sticky, colorless film) build up between the gums and your teeth. As the bacteria grow, the gums surrounding the tooth can become inflamed. Initially the gums will appear red and swollen, and bleed when you brush and floss. This is the earliest and mildest form of gum disease, called gingivitis.
If left untreated gingivitis may progress to periodontitis, where the gums actually separate from the teeth and form pockets (spaces between the teeth and gums) filled with infection-causing bacteria. As the pockets become deeper the supporting bone of the tooth is destroyed and, if not treated and repaired, will result in tooth loss.
My patients often ask, “How did this happen without me noticing?” Periodontitis typically has very mild symptoms and progresses undetected, silently and painlessly, until it’s too late. I tell my patients to look for the warning signs of gum disease, like:
- Red, swollen or tender gums or other pain in your mouth
- Bleeding while brushing, flossing, or eating hard foods
- Pus between your gums and teeth
- Gums that are receding causing the teeth to appear longer
- Loose, moving or separating teeth, increases in spaces between teeth
- Sores in your mouth
- Persistent bad breath or bad taste when brushing or flossing
- A change in the way your teeth fit together or discomfort when you bite
Millions of people don’t know they have this serious oral infection that can lead to tooth loss if not treated. Losing a tooth (or teeth) affects more than your smile, it will change how you eat, speak and interact. If you suspect you have periodontal disease, take action, schedule a comprehensive dental examination with your dentist and get your mouth checked out!
Dr. Jack Lincks, DDS, MS, provides a wide range of care and services at Periodontal Health Specialists of Idaho, in Boise and Nampa. He is also a board member of Delta Dental of Idaho.