What is periodontal disease?
Periodontal diseases are infections of the gums and bone that surround and support the teeth. In its early stage, called gingivitis, the gums can become swollen and red, and they may bleed. In its more serious form, called periodontitis, the gums can pull away from the tooth, bone can be lost, and the teeth may loosen or even fall out. Periodontal disease is mostly seen in adults. Periodontal disease and tooth decay are the two biggest threats to dental health.
Bacteria in the mouth infect tissue surrounding the tooth, causing inflammation around the tooth leading to periodontal disease. When bacteria stay on the teeth long enough, they form a film called plaque, which eventually hardens to tartar, also called calculus. Tartar build-up can spread below the gum line, which makes the teeth harder to clean. Then, only a dental health professional can remove the tartar and stop the periodontal disease process.
The following are warning signs of periodontal disease:
Certain factors increase the risk for periodontal disease:
Prevention and treatment
Gingivitis can be controlled and treated with good oral hygiene and regular professional cleaning. More severe forms of periodontal disease can also be treated successfully but may require more extensive treatment. Such treatment might include deep cleaning of the tooth root surfaces below the gums, medications prescribed to take by mouth or placed directly under the gums, and sometimes corrective surgery.
To help prevent or control periodontal diseases, it is important to:
If you can’t afford dental care, you may be able to find help through the following sources:
What is the CDC doing about periodontal disease?
The CDC is currently working with key partner organizations such as the American Academy of Periodontology and the American Dental Association to improve and sustain surveillance of periodontal disease in the adult U.S. population. The efforts of the CDC include (1) developing measures for use in surveillance of periodontal disease at the state and local levels, (2) improving the validity of prevalence estimates derived from the NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) by improving the accuracy of the clinical examination protocols used in this national survey, and (3) developing simple measures for screening for periodontal disease in clinical settings.
CDC collaborations related to periodontal disease and diabetes
The National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) is a joint program of the CDC and the NIH (National Institutes of Health). The CDC regularly collaborates with a workgroup within NDEP called PPOD (Pharmacy, Podiatry, Optometry, and Dental Professionals). PPOD develops and promotes materials to educate patients and fellow dental professionals on the disease and how to prevent a major complication that often results from having diabetes—periodontal disease.
Available educational materials for dental professionals include:
Podcasts About Periodontal Disease and Diabetes
Listen to Summary: Periodontal Disease and Diabetes Podcast. Provides valuable information on the impact of periodontal disease and its link to diabetes (Length 1:36). View transcript.
Listen to Periodontal Disease and Diabetes Podcast. Informative interview of two dental professionals about periodontal disease, diabetes complications, and the influence of poor oral health on blood glucose control (Length 5:33). View transcript.
Periodontal (Gum) Diseases: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment. (PDF–1.26 MB). National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research consumer brochure. Bethesda, MD. Reprinted January 2006.
Periodontal (Gum) Diseases*: American Dental Association consumer fact sheet.
One or more documents on this Web page is available in Portable Document Format (PDF). You will need Acrobat Reader to view and print these documents.
* Links to non-Federal organizations are
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Page last reviewed:
December 15, 2011