Most Missoula parents are concerned about cavities. And rightly so. Tooth decay in children is a serious and widespread disease.
What about kids’ gum disease? Are little ones at risk for an oral ailment that is commonplace in the adult population?
Short answer: yes.
Let’s discuss it.
Children and adolescents are at risk of gum disease and the more advanced form called periodontal disease.
What causes gingivitis and periodontal disease?
Gum disease (gingivitis) and periodontal disease are caused by plaque buildup.
Food particles mixed with saliva generate a sticky film called plaque. Plaque generates bacteria. If it is not removed regularly with brushing and flossing, the bacteria multiply. The plaque builds up on the teeth.
The gums respond to the bacteria by becoming sore and inflamed. Plaque buildup hardens into calculus. Calculus cannot be removed by a toothbrush or dental floss. Calculus can be removed during a professional dental cleaning.
The American Academy of Periodontology recognizes three forms of gum disease in youth:
- Chronic gingivitis
- Aggressive periodontitis
- Generalized aggressive periodontitis
This is the most frequent variety of gum disease in children. The gums swell, turn red and may bleed. Gingivitis is usually caused by inadequate dental hygiene. Proper oral hygiene includes daily brushing and flossing.
Gingivitis can be prevented or reversed with daily oral hygiene and a healthy lifestyle. If the child doesn’t practice proper dental hygiene, however, the condition can become more severe.
Aggressive periodontitis results in bone loss. It may affect only the first molars and incisors. It rarely occurs before puberty. Surprisingly, children with this kind of disease may have minimal plaque or calculus.
Generalized aggressive periodontitis
This type, though less common, is most likely to occur at the onset of puberty. It may be present throughout the entire mouth. It leads to severe gum inflammation. There are significant amounts of plaque and calculus.
If left untreated, the bone loss becomes so severe the teeth become loose. Then the child is at risk of tooth loss.
4 key findings about gum and periodontal disease in kids:
- Children and adolescents who are generally healthy can have gum disease.
- Hormonal fluctuation that takes place with puberty boosts the risk of periodontal disease. Researchers believe hormonal changes decrease the ability of the immune system to fight the bacteria in dental plaque.
- Epidemiologic studies indicate that gum disease of varying severity is nearly universal in children and adolescents.
- Periodontal disease is more likely to occur in youth ages 12-17 than those younger than 12.
Signs of periodontal disease:
- Swollen, tender gums
- Gums that bleed easily
- Gum recession
- Bad breath
- Unusually large spaces between teeth
- Pus between the gums and teeth
- Changes in bite alignment
At Felton Dental Care – Dr. Brett R. Felton, DMD, we treat all pediatric oral conditions including gingivitis and periodontal disease. Twice-yearly dental cleanings and examinations are important. If you are looking for an experienced, friendly pediatric dentist, we invite you to call us today and schedule an appointment. We look forward to meeting you and your child!