What is gum disease?

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Updated: 4/11/2007 2:46 pm
Gum disease is a condition that can cause serious problems if left untreated. Plaque, the sticky film of material that grows on and around your teeth, is the primary cause of gum disease and the resulting tooth loss in adults. Plaque is composed of bacteria, by- products of bacteria, and your saliva. Many of the foods you eat cause the bacteria in your mouth to produce acids, which then cause plaque to build up on your teeth. Plaque produces substances that irritate your gums and make them red, tender, or bleed easily. After a while, your gums will pull away from your teeth and pockets of bacteria and pus will form. If your gums aren't treated properly, both they and your teeth can be destroyed. Even if you brush, floss, and rinse as directed by your dentist, there will be pockets of plaque that you're unable to reach with your toothbrush or dental floss. For this reason, biannual professional cleanings, polishing, and exams are the best defense against gum disease. As the condition can be painless, you may not know you have it unless detected by an oral exam. Advanced stages of gum disease can cause the bone that supports the teeth to become seriously damaged, resulting in the extraction of the teeth, the re-building of bone, or the insertion of artificial supports. Minor gum disease is called gingivitis (jihn-jih-VYE-tihs), which is a reversible condition. Advanced gum disease is called periodontitis (pair-ee-oh-dawn-TYE-tihs) and often results in the previously mentioned surgical procedures.

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