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What Is Periodontal Disease?

Periodontal disease, also called gum disease, is a chronic bacterial infection that affects gums and bone supporting the teeth. The condition can arise for many reasons. Major causes are poor dental hygiene and smoking. Diabetes, unhealthy diet, and stress also can add to your chance of developing gum disease. People who have uncontrolled diabetes may develop periodontal disease more often and more severely than those with controlled diabetes.

Early gum disease, called gingivitis, is characterized by red, swollen, bleeding gums. In this milder form of the disease, only the gums are affected. At this stage, the condition is treated with daily brushing and flossing, and regular dental cleanings. Gingivitis is usually reversible.

In later-stage disease, called periodontitis, gums are seriously damaged and begin to pull away from the teeth. You may also lose supporting bone. This stage of the disease may require surgical treatment and is not reversible.

The first line of defense against gum disease is good oral care. Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, paying special attention to the gum line, and floss once a day. Also important: Avoid smoking. Finally, see your dentist regularly to have your teeth cleaned and checked.

“What is Gum Disease.” Know Your Teeth, Academy of General Dentistry. www.knowyourteeth.com/infobites/abc/article/?abc=G&iid=324&aid=1251 Accessed 2013.

“Periodontal (Gum) Disease” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institute of Health. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/GumDiseases/PeriodontalGumDisease.htm Accessed 2013.

“Gum Disease” Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/g/gum-disease Accessed 2013.

"Diabetes and Oral Health." American Dental Association. http://www.ada.org/sections/scienceAndResearch/pdfs/patient_18.pdf Accessed 2013.

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