Gum Disease and Plaque

When you have gum disease, germs work to destroy your gums (gingiva) and the bone around your teeth. It starts with plaque. Plaque is a sticky film of food, saliva, and germs. Plaque loves to settle at the gum line. There, germs get busy making your gums red, tender, and likely to bleed.

The goal of your daily tooth brushing and flossing is to clean away plaque. When plaque stays put, it hardens into tartar. Tartar builds up under the gum line. More plaque forms over the tartar. Only your dentist or dental hygienist can get tartar off your teeth.

If plaque and tartar are not cleaned away, even gentle brushing can cause your gums to bleed. This is called gingivitis. It is the first stage of gum disease. You can fight gingivitis with:

  • daily good brushing and flossing habits, and 
  • getting your teeth cleaned at least twice a year at your dentist's office.

If you ignore gingivitis, the gum disease gets worse.

The more severe form of gum disease is called periodontitis. When you reach this stage, your gums begin to pull away from your teeth. Pockets form between your teeth and gums. These fill with germs and pus, and deepen. When this happens, you may need gum surgery to save your teeth. If nothing is done, the infection goes on to destroy the bone around your teeth. The teeth may start to move or get loose. Your teeth may fall out or need to be pulled.

  • Last Reviewed: September 18, 2012
  • Last Edited: April 17, 2014

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