Image courtesy of 101st Adult Dentistry.

Gum disease is a prevalent condition in the United States, with an estimated 42 percent of adults over the age of 30 suffering from it. In 2016, severe periodontal disease was the 11th most prevalent disease globally. While there are telltale signs of gum disease, sometimes it can go unnoticed during the first stages. So, how do you know if you have gum disease? And if you do, what can you do about it? In this article, we’ll go over:

  • Causes of Gum Disease
  • The Three Stages of Gum Disease
  • Treatment Options

Causes of Gum Disease

Poor Oral Hygiene

One of the two main causes of gum disease is poor oral hygiene. If people do not properly and regularly brush and floss their teeth, plaque -- a sticky film made up of bacteria, mucus, and other particles in our mouth -- begins to build up. If left untreated, the plaque will harden and form tartar, which cannot be removed via brushing.

Two teeth are shown side by side. The tooth on the left is healthy and white. The tooth on the right has plaque on it, and the gums around it are inflamed.
Controlling plaque buildup can reduce the risk of gum disease. Image courtesy of Aetna.

Brushing twice a day and flossing once a day can reduce your risk of gum disease.

Use of Tobacco

The second main cause of gum disease is the use of tobacco. Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis (ANUG) -- also known as Vincent’s disease and “trench mouth” -- is a common issue in smokers. This painful, rapidly progressing form of gingivitis is characterized by bleeding gums, ulcers, and bad breath.

Smoking, chewing, and other forms of tobacco use can even make treatment less successful. Dentists will often recommend quitting smoking or chewing in order to make treatment more effective.

The Three Stages of Gum Disease

There are three stages of gum disease, which are gingivitis, periodontitis, and advanced periodontitis. 

On the left side, someone's gums are shown, red and inflamed. On the right, the gums are pink and healthy.
Gingivitis is characterized by red, inflamed gums, as shown on the left. Image courtesy of The Family Dental Center.


The initial stage of gum disease is known as gingivitis, which is the inflammation of the gums. Some symptoms of gingivitis include:

  • Bleeding gums while brushing or flossing
  • Redness and/or swelling of the gums

Gingivitis can occur in chronic and acute forms:

  • Acute Gingivitis → associated with infections or trauma
  • Chronic Gingivitis → associated with plaque buildup on the teeth and gums

Since gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease, only the gums are affected -- not the bone or connective tissue. This means it can often be reversed simply by practicing good oral hygiene. 


The second stage of gum disease is periodontitis, which means “inflammation around the tooth.” Unlike gingivitis, in this stage, the bone and tissue are now damaged beyond repair. 

Symptoms of periodontitis are:

  • Sensitive teeth
  • Loose teeth
  • Painful chewing
  • Receding gums 

Periodontitis is characterized by the formation of pockets between the teeth and gums. While there are treatment options for this second stage of gum disease, the damage that has already been done is irreversible. If untreated, periodontitis can result in tooth loss.

Advanced Periodontitis

This is the final, most advanced stage of gum disease during which the bones and fibers of teeth are being broken down. Symptoms of advanced periodontitis are the same as symptoms of periodontitis. Like mentioned before, this can result in tooth loss, as teeth often shift or loosen. 

If treatment methods prove ineffective, dental specialists might be forced to remove the affected teeth. Should that be the case, you can read about your options for missing teeth.

Treatment Options

The main goal of any of the treatment options listed below is to control the infection. 

Scaling and Root Planing

This procedure is used to remove plaque buildup and tartar deposits both above and below the gum line. 

Bone and Tissue Grafts

Bone and tissue grafts help regenerate the bone or tissue that were destroyed. A mesh-like material is placed between the bone and the tissue, which helps to reduce further bone loss and gum recession.

Practicing Good Oral Hygiene

Like mentioned a few times throughout this article, practicing good oral hygiene is a way to prevent and treat gum disease. This means brushing your teeth two times per day, flossing once per day, and visiting your dentist twice a year for regular check-ups. Even if you think your gums look perfectly healthy, you should continue to brush, floss, and visit your dentist regularly. 

A toothbrush with toothpaste, a tube of toothpaste, and a glass of water sit on a countertop.
Maintaining a proper dental hygiene routine is crucial to preventing gum disease.  

If you think you’re experiencing symptoms of gum disease, whatever stage it may be, the staff at Elizabeth Wakim DDS can help you. Proper dental care is their specialty, and they want to make sure your gums are as happy and healthy as can be.