Gum Disease in Children

Before we dive into symptoms and treatments, let’s talk about what gum disease in children is first. Just as with many oral health problems, harmful bacteria and plaque buildup is the main culprit. This sticky film accumulates around teeth and creates the perfect environment for bacteria, which produce toxins that lead to swollen, inflamed, and bleeding gums. That’s why helping your child establish good oral hygiene early — along with regular dental appointments — is so important. If the inflammation is left untreated, the disease will spread to the bones around the teeth, damaging tissues such that they’re no longer able to hold teeth in place. But that’s a worst-case scenario. Children are more likely to only get a milder form of gum disease if they receive prompt treatment.

Why Your Child May Develop Gum Disease

Since gum disease can occur without pain or discomfort, it’s important for parents to know the factors that put some children more at risk of periodontal disease than others. Some children inherit certain genes from their parents that put them at a higher risk of gum disease. Frequently missing the two-minute, twice-a-day toothbrushing sessions may allow the bacteria and plaque that cause gingivitis to accumulate around the gums and teeth. Kids with braces may find it harder to fend off plaque because there may be additional places for food remains and bacteria to accumulate.

What your child eats also determines their likelihood of developing gum disease. A diet of starchy foods, sugary snacks, energy drinks, and sweetened juices will feed the acids that eat away at tooth enamel. The hormones that cause puberty put girls at a greater risk because their gums become irritated more easily when exposed to plaque. Other medical conditions like diabetes or autoimmune diseases can also be a risk factor.

Kinds of Periodontal Disease in Kids

Chronic gum disease (periodontitis) doesn’t happen suddenly; it typically progresses in stages, ranging from slight to severe. In fact, more than 50% of kids have untreated gum disease because the first stage of the disease (gingivitis) has such subtle symptoms. Usually by the time you feel pain with gum disease, it’s progressed to a more severe form. That’s why knowing the early signs is so important.

As a rule of thumb, always remember that healthy gums are pink and firm, not red, puffy, and tender. If you notice even a little “pink in the sink” when your child brushes their teeth or flosses, this is not normal. Bleeding gums are usually the first sign of gingivitis, the mildest form of gum disease.

Periodontitis is the next stage of gum disease. It often occurs when gingivitis is left untreated and plaque hardens into tartar, which slowly destroys gum tissue. Once that happens, the gums become severely swollen such that pockets form around the gumline and loosen the teeth. The gums may also start receding, sometimes exposing the roots. Though this type of gum disease is rare in children, it can happen, and if left untreated, it can lead your child’s smile down a treacherous path.

What Dentists Do to Treat Gum Disease in Children

Gum disease doesn’t go away on its own. The first step when treating it is to determine how far it has progressed. Through X-rays and a comprehensive oral examination, your kid’s dentist can spot periodontal diseases even before you or your child become aware of it. And the earlier we catch it, the easier it is to treat. Deep cleaning can help remove plaque and infected gum tissue, while root planing will stop the spread of infection and inflammation, reversing the effects of gingivitis on your child’s mouth. Your dentist may also prescribe antibiotics or an antibacterial rinse to kill harmful bacteria and help the gums heal. If gum disease has already progressed to advanced periodontitis, it’s possible, though unlikely, that your child will need surgery to open up and clean the infected areas around the gums, then reshape or replace any badly diseased gum pockets.

How to Stay on Top of It

Gingivitis is completely preventable, and you don’t need any “secret” tactic or abracadabra tricks — just good, old-fashioned dental care. Help your child establish a solid oral routine that includes flossing and remind them to always brush their teeth after eating sugary foods.

Here at the pediatric dental practice of Dr. Jeffrey C. Jaynes, we recognize that even the most consistent tooth brushers may not always manage to keep plaque at bay. That’s why we encourage parents to schedule dental cleanings for their kids at least once every six months. And if gum disease does happen, parents should be careful to not blame their kids for these problems. Rather, walk alongside them, be a participant and partner in the process, and point out the long-term benefits of taking better care of their teeth.