In the first stage of periodontal disease, called gingivitis, plaque (the sticky film of bacteria) causes superficial inflammation of the gums. If plaque isn't removed, the sensitive gum tissues react by swelling, becoming red and bleeding.

This creates "pockets" where bacteria lodge and begin to erode the tissue that connects the gum to the teeth. If periodontal disease isn't checked, the pockets get deeper. Eventually, the bone around the roots is destroyed. If periodontal disease is left untreated, your teeth may become loose, fall out or need to be removed by your dentist.

The good news is that most gum disease is treatable. With improved home care (brushing and flossing), and some therapeutic cleaning, most periodontal disease can be arrested. Advanced cases may require additional treatment and/or referral to a periodontist.

Gum Disease and other Health Problems

Several studies point out associations between gum disease and the development of cardiovascular problems. There is evidence that bacteria in the mouth, which are associated with gum disease, may be linked to heart disease, artery blockages and stroke.

Research also suggests that these bacteria can contribute to bacterial pneumonia. Maintaining healthy gums could be important for people who are susceptible to bacterial pneumonia, such as people prone to respiratory infections, those with compromised immune systems or the elderly.

Studies also indicate that pregnant women with gum disease may be more likely to have pre-term delivery and low birth weight babies.