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Periodontal Disease in Children

What is periodontal disease in children?

Periodontal disease is a serious bacterial infection. It destroys the gums and supporting structures of the teeth. It is also called gum disease.

What causes periodontal disease in a child?

The buildup of plaque on the teeth is the main cause of periodontal disease. Plaque contains bacteria that sticks to the teeth. If plaque isn’t removed, it hardens and is then called calculus or tartar. Poor oral hygiene habits allow plaque to grow in the mouth.

Which children are at risk for periodontal disease?

Certain things may raise your child’s risk for periodontal disease. These include:

  • Certain genes

  • Food stuck in the gums

  • Mouth breathing, which may lead to severe drying of the gums and teeth in the front of the mouth

  • Poor diet

  • Smoking and using smokeless tobacco

  • Autoimmune or systemic diseases

  • Diabetes

  • Hormonal changes in the body, such as during puberty

  • Repeated clenching or grinding of the teeth that your child can’t control (bruxism)

  • Certain medicines that can cause an overgrowth of the gums

What are the symptoms of periodontal disease in a child?

Periodontal disease can range from mild to severe. Most children with gum disease have the mildest form, called gingivitis. It causes the gums to become red, swollen, and sore. More advanced cases of gum disease are not common in children.

Generally, gum disease isn’t painful. So your child may not know if he or she has it. Below are the most common symptoms of gum disease:

  • Red, swollen, sore gums

  • Bleeding while brushing or flossing

  • Gums that pull away from the teeth (receding gums)

  • Loose or separating teeth that show greater than normal spacing

  • Bad breath that won’t go away

  • Pus between the teeth and gums

  • A change in bite and jaw alignment

These symptoms may seem like other health problems. Have your child sees his or her healthcare provider or dentist for a diagnosis.

How is periodontal disease diagnosed in a child?

Your child’s healthcare provider will likely refer your child to a dentist for evaluation and care. Your child’s dentist can often diagnose periodontal disease with a complete history and exam of your child’s teeth and gums. Your child may also need X-rays.

Your child’s dentist may refer your child to a periodontist. This is a dentist with special training to treat periodontal disease.

How is periodontal disease treated in a child?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Early treatment is important. It can prevent the gum disease from getting worse. If the disease is left untreated, underlying bone around the teeth may dissolve. It will no longer be able to hold the teeth in place.

Treatment may include any or a combination of the following:

  • Good dental care. Regular cleanings by a dentist can help fight gingivitis, the mildest form of gum disease. Your child will also need to brush and floss daily.

  • Deep cleaning (scaling and root planing). This treatment can help remove the plaque and tartar under the gum and infected tissue in the early stages of the disease. It can also smooth the damaged root surfaces of the teeth. The gums can then reattach to the teeth.

  • Medicine. Antibiotic medicine may be put in the periodontal pockets. Or it may be given in pill form to take by mouth.

  • Surgery. When gum disease is advanced, the infected areas under the gums need to be cleaned. The tissues may also be reshaped or replaced.

How can I help prevent periodontal disease in my child?

Good dental habits can prevent gum disease. Make sure your child:

  • Brushes his or her teeth twice a day

  • Uses a toothbrush that is the right size based on your child's age and size

  • Flosses daily

  • Sees the dentist regularly

  • Eats healthy foods, limiting those high in sugar and starch

Key points about periodontal disease in children

  • Periodontal disease is a serious bacterial infection that destroys the gums and supporting structures of the teeth.

  • It is also called gum disease.

  • The main cause is plaque buildup on the teeth.

  • Children are more likely to have gingivitis, the mildest form of the disease.

  • Symptoms include red, swollen, sore gums. The gums may also bleed when brushed or flossed.

  • Good dental care can help prevent gum disease.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.

  • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.

Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN CCRC
Online Medical Reviewer: Michael Kapner MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2019
© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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