Gum disease isn’t just a problem endured by adults. Children can suffer from gingivitis and other periodontal diseases, too. If you suspect your child has gum disease — or if your child’s dentist has diagnosed the condition after examining your child — here are four things you should know.
The Differences Between Gingivitis and Periodontitis
Gingivitis and periodontitis aren’t interchangeable terms for gum disease, even though the two words are often presented together in discussions about gum disease. Both gingivitis and periodontitis are conditions that affect the support systems of the teeth, which include the gums.
Gingivitis is the mildest form of periodontal disease and affects the pink gingiva, or gum tissue. Gingivitis is caused by plaque, which is the sticky substance that develops on teeth from leftover food and beverage particles. Bacteria in plaque attack both teeth and gums, causing inflammation. The bacteria that cause cavities are the same ones that cause gingivitis.
When gingivitis and other oral health issues are not addressed and treated, periodontitis may occur. Periodontitis is the infection, inflammation, and destruction of tissue and bone in the periodontium. The periodontium includes all of the structural elements that support the teeth.
Parts of the periodontium include the following:
- Gingiva. This is the pink gum tissue.
- Periodontal ligament. This structure suspends the tooth. The end is embedded in the cementum.
- Alveolar bone. This bone holds the other end of the periodontal ligament.
- Cementum. This is a calcified substance that covers the root of the tooth.
When gingivitis and other problems progress to periodontitis, the structures of the periodontium grow loose and decay. Gums may pull away from the teeth.
The Signs and Symptoms of Childhood Gum Disease
Healthy gums are pink, firm, and snug against the teeth. Healthy gums don’t bleed when they’re touched or brushed, and they don’t bleed when a child is chewing.
Signs of pediatric gingivitis include the following:
- Red gums
- Inflamed gums
- Tender gums
- Bleeding gums after brushing or flossing
- Receding gums
Children may have signs of gingivitis, including inflamed or red gums, yet feel no pain from the condition. If bleeding has occurred for weeks or months, children may believe that gum-bleeding is normal.
The Causes and Types of Pediatric Periodontal Diseases
Pediatric periodontal diseases develop for a variety of reasons and result in several types of conditions in children. One of the main causes of periodontal disease in adults and children is poor diet. Inadequate brushing and flossing of teeth also contribute to periodontal conditions.
Since saliva washes away plaque, children with dry mouths can develop periodontal diseases. Children who breathe through their mouths due to nasal congestion or injury may develop gingivitis or periodontitis. Children who breathe through their mouths while sleeping can also have dry gums that are more prone to develop bacterial growth and periodontal diseases.
The three main types of serious childhood periodontal diseases include:
- Chronic gingivitis
- Aggressive periodontitis
- Generalized aggressive periodontitis
Chronic gingivitis is preventable and treatable with good oral hygiene habits. Aggressive periodontitis can lead to severe loss of bone. Aggressive periodontitis is often present even when teeth have little or no plaque on them.
Generalized aggressive periodontitis may develop when a child reaches the teenage years. The entire mouth may be affected, and abundant plaque is often present. Generalized aggressive periodontitis can cause all of the teeth to become loose.
Fluctuating hormone levels during puberty can sometimes be associated with periodontal diseases, including aggressive periodontitis, in adolescents. Children with diabetes may develop periodontal diseases as a result of unstable insulin levels.
A fourth type of pediatric periodontal disease is associated with systemic diseases in children, including auto-immune diseases. Chronic disease-related pediatric periodontitis (CPP) can be localized to one area of the child’s mouth or present in more than 30 percent of the child’s periodontium. CPP progresses slowly to moderately, but the disease sometimes manifests in periods of increased bone and tissue destruction.
Several childhood systemic diseases are associated with CPP. Systemic-disease related CPP is rare and often is first noticed between the eruption of the child’s first tooth and the age of four or five.
CPP is associated with the following systemic diseases:
- Papillon-Lefevre syndrome
- Cyclic neutropenia
- Down syndrome
- Leukocyte adhesion deficiency
If your child has one of these systemic diseases, pay special attention to their oral health.
The Treatment of Pediatric Gum Disease
Gingivitis can be managed with a dental cleaning and polishing at the dentist’s office, followed by more vigilant home dental care. Encourage children to eat healthy snacks and drink tooth-friendly beverages.
In cases of severe pediatric periodontal disease, your child may need surgical treatment. In some cases, the roots of teeth are scraped and polished to remove plaque and create a better surface for gums. Your child’s dentist may prescribe antibiotics and other medications to help your child’s body fight infection and rebuild oral tissue.
When your child is diagnosed with a periodontal disease, your dentist will explain all of the available treatment options. You’ll also receive support from the dental team to help your child gain improved oral hygiene habits.
If your child’s gums are puffy, bright red, or bleeding, contact Valley Oak Dental Group today and schedule an examination of your child’s gums by one of our caring, skilled dentists.