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Periodontal disease—also known as gum disease—is a bacterial growth that is caused by plaque and tartar build up. If left untreated, gum disease ultimately destroys the tissues and bones that support teeth. When this occurs, teeth become loose and ultimately need to be removed. While plaque and tartar are the primary causes of gum disease, other contributing factors include tobacco use, clenching or grinding teeth, and genetics.

There are two main types of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis. Swollen and bleeding gums are early signs of periodontal disease that many people ignore. Gingivitis usually appears during the beginning stages of periodontal disease and often goes unnoticed—unless it’s identified by a dental professional. Untreated gingivitis eventually leads to periodontitis, which breaks down the bones and tissues that support the teeth.

Treating periodontal disease depends on the type and severity of condition. If your dentist is able to catch the condition early enough, there are steps that can be taken to remove plaque through procedures like scaling and root planing. Other conservative, non-invasive approaches include prescribing medications and oral mouth rinses to kill bacteria in the mouth. In more serious cases, surgery or grafting procedures may be required to stop periodontal disease from spreading.