Children's Health and Wellness

Periodontal Disease in Children

What is periodontal disease in children?

Periodontal disease is a serious bacterial infection that destroys the gums and the nearby tissues of the mouth. 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 is bacteria that stick to the teeth. If plaque isn’t removed, it hardens. It’s then called tartar. Poor dental care allows 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 the use of 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 signs and 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
  • Bad breath that won’t go away
  • Pus between the teeth and gums
  • A change in bite and jaw alignment

These signs and symptoms may look like other health problems. Make sure 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 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 the nearby tissues of the mouth.
  • 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 Source: Gum Disease, American Dental Associationhttp://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/g/gum-disease
Online Source: Diseases and Disorders, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Researchhttp://www.nidcr.nih.gov/DataStatistics/SurgeonGeneral/sgr/chap3.htm
Online Source: Periodontal Treatments and Procedures, American Academy of Periodontologyhttps://www.perio.org/consumer/treatments-procedures
Author: Semko, Laura
Online Editor: Sinovic, Dianna
Online Editor: Tchang, Kimberly
Online Medical Reviewer: Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Kapner, Michael, DDS
Online Medical Reviewer: Sather, Rita, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2016
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