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Do You Know the Signs of Gum Disease?

Get the lowdown on how to spot symptoms of gum disease, so you can get it treated.

You may have a beautiful smile, but that’s no guarantee that what’s holding your teeth in place -- your gums -- are healthy: You could be suffering from gum disease, a major cause of tooth loss in adults. Gum disease is usually silent and painless. Learn how to spot it -- and how to keep your gums healthy and avoid it in the first place.

What causes it?

In some cases, your risk of gum disease may be genetic, says Dr. Ruchi Sahota, Fremont, Calif., based dentist and spokesperson for the American Dental Association. Other common causes include: dry mouth, poor oral hygiene, pregnancy, diabetes, crooked teeth that are difficult to keep clean, smoking, receding gums, a change in your bite or change in the fit of partial dentures or bridges.

What does it look like?

Some signs of gum disease are persistent bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth, receding gums, red, swollen or tender gums or gums that bleed easily. Schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible if you have any of these symptoms, advises Sahota.

Beginning stages

Gingivitis is the earliest stage of gum disease -- when the bacteria have settled beneath the gums. “Basically, any infection of the tissue or bone that surrounds the teeth is gingivitis,” says Sahota. To prevent gingivitis, consider using a mouth rinse labeled anti-plaque, anti-gingivitis, antibacterial or chemotherapeutic.

The later stages

Periodontitis occurs when gum disease becomes advanced, and may lead to the loss of tissue and bone that support your teeth. Your teeth could feel loose and shift around in your mouth. It usually evolves slowly, but may in some cases, progress rapidly. It is usually seen in adults, but can occur at any age, and can be highly destructive.

How to treat
In many cases, the early stage of gum disease is reversible. It is usually treated with a professional dental cleaning, followed by the adoption of good oral hygiene habits. People with periodontitis may require dental surgery. Options include flap surgery, where a section of gum tissue is lifted back for more effective scaling and planning; soft tissue grafts, which restore damaged gum tissue; or application of a gel that stimulates bone and tissue growth.

Prevention

You don’t have to lose your teeth to gum disease. Practice good oral hygiene habits: schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings, brush after each meal and floss once daily, use a mouth rinse to help limit plaque buildup and supplement your regular brushing and flossing with a soft-tipped interdental cleaner specially designed to clean between your teeth.

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