Gum disease is more common among children than you think. But it can be treated if caught early.
Unfortunately, cavities are a rite of passage for most young children. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than half of children aged six to eight have had a cavity in their primary or baby teeth. Between the ages of 12 and 19, 57 percent of adolescents are treated for a cavity in their permanent teeth. But what about periodontitis, or gum disease, another common dental malady? Does that affect children, too?
Shockingly, about 50 percent of children have gum disease, according to Boston’s Children Hospital. While most youngsters have gingivitis, the mildest form of periodontitis, parents should look for any signs of gum disease before it progresses to a more severe stage and further damages their child’s oral health.
Does your child have gum disease? Here’s what to look for
Gum disease results from a continual buildup of plaque and bacteria on the teeth and gums. Daily brushing cleans away most of the plaque and bacteria, but it soon returns, especially if a child doesn’t brush regularly. Over time, the plaque converts to tartar, a hardened substance irritating to gums. Tartar is much harder to remove and needs to be done by a dental hygienist. If not removed, tartar attracts more bacteria, and the gums soon become infected.
Gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease affecting most children, is characterized by puffy, red gums. Bleeding when brushing is a frequent symptom of gingivitis. If caught at this stage, gingivitis can be reversed with proper dental hygiene and treatment from a dentist. But if left untreated, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis, eroding the bone and gum tissue holding a tooth in place. At that point, tooth loss is a real possibility. Bad breath and pain when chewing are two other symptoms of advanced periodontitis.
Risk factors for childhood gum disease
Children could be at risk for gum disease even at a young age. Poor dental hygiene is the main culprit. But there are other risk factors, such as:
- Genetics. Gum disease runs in families.
- Mouth breathing. When your child breathes through the mouth, it dries out the gums, and dry gums promote the growth of bacteria and plaque.
- Hormones. The hormonal changes during puberty raise the chance of gum disease.
- Medications. Certain medications can cause an overproduction of gum tissue.
- Teeth grinding. Bruxism, or nighttime teeth grinding, damages both the teeth and gums.
- Vitamin deficiency. If your child isn’t getting enough nutrients, particularly vitamin C, they set the stage for gum disease.
What to do if you think your child has gum disease
Your first step is to take your child to the dentist for an examination. Early-stage gum disease is very treatable with a thorough cleaning of the teeth and gums to remove bacteria and plaque. More advanced cases may require surgery to build up gum and bone tissues.
You can also take measures to keep your child’s gum healthy by having them practice good oral hygiene. Start by making sure they brush their teeth for two minutes each night with a right-sized brush. Teach them to floss, as well. Watch their sugar intake and give them nutritious foods.
Most importantly, get them accustomed to the dentist at a young age. Those twice-a-year dental appointments will make them more comfortable with the experience so gum disease never happens.
Bring your child to an Espire dentist
Schedule an appointment at Espire’s La Mesa location today! Our highly trained dentists work with children daily to ensure they have healthy teeth and gums. Don’t live near our La Mesa, CA, office? Find one of our other locations near you.
La Mesa, CA
8555 Fletcher Pkwy
La Mesa, CA 91942