What is Periodontal (Gum) Disease?

Periodontal (gum) disease is a chronic bacterial infection that affects the gums and bone supporting the teeth. Periodontal disease includes both gingivitis and periodontitis. Periodontal disease can affect one tooth or many teeth. It begins when the bacteria in plaque (the sticky, colourless film that constantly forms on your teeth) causes the gums to become red or inflamed. Any plaque that has not been removed by the toothbrush or floss will harden to become tartar. Tartar can only be removed with scaling by a dental hygienist.

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In the early stages, the gums become red, swollen and bleed easily. There is usually little or no discomfort. This condition is called gingivitis and is usually caused by poor oral hygiene.


Left untreated, gingivitis can advance to periodontitis. With time, plaque can spread and grow below the gum line. Toxins produced by the bacteria in plaque invade the gums and eventually cause the bone that supports the teeth to be broken down and destroyed. Gums separate from the teeth, forming pockets (spaces between the teeth and gums) that become infected. As the disease progresses, the pockets deepen and more gum tissue and bone are destroyed. Often, this destructive process has very mild symptoms. Eventually, teeth can become loose and may have to be removed.

Common signs of periodontal disease

  1. Bleeding gums
  2. Loose teeth
  3. Separated teeth or teeth that have moved from their original position
  4. Pus or swellings
  5. Bad breath

The good news is:

  • gum disease can almost always be prevented,
  • it can be treated

To prevent gingivitis and periodontitis, the following has to be done by the patient.

  1. Use a soft toothbrush.
  2. Follow the dentist’s recommendation of an efficient way of brushing twice a day.
  3. Floss once a day or use other interdental aids if unable to floss.
  4. Go for regular professional cleanings to get rid of any calculus (tartar) that has formed under the gum line.

Gum Treatments

If gum disease is diagnosed in the early stages, it can be treated with a thorough professional cleaning. If the disease has progressed, the treatment may involve a “deep cleaning” which involves cleaning the root surfaces of your teeth to remove tarter and bacteria below the gum line. This may require several appointments, depending on the extent of your gum disease.

When gum disease is more serious, you may be referred to the periodontist. A periodontist treats serious forms of gum disease that do not get better with normal dental care.

More articles on Gums and Brushing & Flossing Techniques, Gum diseases and tips to prevent sore, swollen, and bleeding gums in our General Dentistry section.