Carlita Anderson, 58, feared dental visits and would only go if she was having excruciating tooth pain. On one of her rare visits to a dentist, she was warned about the beginnings in her mouth of periodontal or gum disease. Carlita ignored the red flag and continued to avoid the dentist. Well, slowly but surely the Brooklyn, New York resident began losing teeth and by the time she made a dental appointment to seek help, it was too late. “If I had to do it all over again, I would have tried to seek help for my dental phobia. Now that I’m wearing dentures, I so lament my bad decisions regarding my teeth; I could have saved them,” Carlita laments.

Periodontal or gum disease is an infection of the tissues that surround and support your teeth. Because gum disease is usually painless, you may not know you have it. It’s typically caused by poor brushing and flossing habits that allow plaque—a sticky film of bacteria—to build up on the teeth and harden. In advanced stages, it can lead to sore, bleeding gums; painful chewing problems; and even tooth loss. As a matter of fact, it is a major cause of tooth loss in adults and especially in African Americans. Other contributing factors for gum disease include smoking, diabetes, hormonal changes and a genetic predisposition.


  • Loose teeth
  • Bad breath
  • Tender, swollen, bleeding gums
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Receding gums


In order for a dentist to determine if whether you have gum disease, they will need to do the following:

  • Delve into your health background, review meds, inquire about your lifestyle habits
  • Examine your mouth to check for plaque buildup, bleeding, inflammation
  • Measure any pockets around the teeth, the test for pocket depth is usually painless.


Infection control is your dentist or periodontist’s main goal when dealing with gum disease, so treatment options will vary depending on its severity.  All treatments will require you to keep up good oral habits like regular brushing, flossing and to change any destructive behaviors like smoking that will sabotage any efforts made to rectify the situation. If the gum disease is not advanced, treatment for the problem can include:

  • Scaling to remove tartar and bacteria from teeth and beneath gums
  • Root planing to smooth the root surfaces, and discourage further tartar buildup and bacteria
  • Antibiotics that are topical or oral to help control the infection

If the gum disease is advanced, treatment might require surgery:

  • Flap surgery or pocket reduction: tiny incisions are made in the gum so that a section of gum tissue can be lifted back exposing the roots for better scaling and root planing
  • Soft tissue grafts: where damaged soft tissue is reinforced; this can reduce gum recession and cover exposed roots
  • Bone grafting: helps prevent tooth loss by holding your tooth in place and serves as a platform for the regrowth of natural bone
  • Guided tissue regeneration: allows the regrowth of bone that was destroyed by bacteria
  • Tissue-stimulating proteins: a special gel application that allows the regrowth of bone that was destroyed by bacteria

Need more information? Visit the American Dental Association’s website—