Is Gum Disease Contagious?

What is Gum Disease?

Any infection which affects your gums can be considered gum disease. According to the American Dental Association, gum disease is an infection of the tissues surrounding your teeth.1 However, a wide range of gum diseases may result from several different causes.

Periodontitis

The teeth have supporting structures that hold the teeth in the jaw. These supporting structures include the gums, cementum, periodontal ligaments, and alveolar bone. The alveolar bone is the part of the jaw bone that houses the teeth. The periodontal ligaments help hold the teeth in position while the cementum covers the root part of the teeth. In addition, the gums cover the other supporting structures of the teeth and the root part of the teeth. 

When an infection involves the other supporting structures of the teeth, including the gums, it is referred to as periodontitis. Periodontitis tends to be a progression of gingivitis. However, gingivitis does not always progress to periodontitis. The European Federation of Periodontology explains periodontitis as a long-term inflammatory disease that destroys the tooth-supporting apparatus and can lead to tooth loss.2 Periodontitis may also be referred to as periodontal disease.

Gingivitis

Gingivitis refers to inflammation of the gums. In this instance, the infection is restricted to the gums and has not progressed to the underlying structures.

Causes and Risk Factors

Typically, gum disease is caused by plaque. Plaque is a build-up of food debris, bacteria, and some other proteins. Soon after toothbrushing, plaque forms on the tooth. If the plaque is left undisturbed, it eventually causes gum disease. Certain conditions and behaviours may affect the development of gum disease. One culprit is smoking.

Smoking compromises the gums' defensive mechanism, making the gum more susceptible to infection. As such, smoking is a risk factor for gum disease.

Also, hormonal imbalances during pregnancy may predispose a pregnant woman to gingivitis. Therefore, a substantial number of pregnant women may experience bleeding gums.

Overcrowding of teeth is another risk factor for gum disease. Maintaining adequate oral hygiene may be challenging with overcrowded teeth. Poor oral hygiene is a precursor to gingival disease.

Certain medications may cause enlarging and bleeding gums as a side effect. Such drugs include phenytoin and nifedipine. 

In addition, the lack of vitamin C can lead to a condition called scurvy. Scurvy has a gum disease component whereby one may develop sores on the gums with bleeding.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of gum disease include:

  • Bleeding gums
  • Shrinking gums
  • Enlarging gums
  • Ulcerations on gums
  • Bad breath
  • Pus From Gums
  • Change in your bite
  • Mobile teeth

How is gum disease transmitted?

Kissing

During mouth kissing, several microorganisms may be transmitted between the people involved. Such organisms include bacteria, viruses, and fungi that could cause gum disease. It is noteworthy that viruses and fungi may cause gum disease, too, especially in immunocompromised people.

Sharing Utensils or Drinks

Similar to kissing, sharing utensils could potentially pass the microorganisms responsible for gum disease to other people. These microorganisms are not visible to the naked eye, and so, just because a glass used by a person looks clean does not mean there are no microorganisms on it.

Treatment and Prevention

It is always a good idea to prevent the disease from occurring where possible. Some helpful preventive actions for gum disease are as follows:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice daily before you go to bed and any other time during the day.
  • Floss at least once daily.
  • Avoid smoking and using tobacco.
  • Eat a balanced meal.

To treat gum disease, you must see your dentist, who would be able to investigate the most likely cause of your gum disease and treat it accordingly. Many people with gum disease are offered professional cleaning of their teeth and gums. The aim is to remove plaque and calculus, which are risk factors for gum disease.

When to See a Dentist

It may be helpful to see your dentist at least once every six months for a check-up. Some people may need more frequent checks or less.3 Even if you have no concerns, your dentist may identify any unhealthy occurrences in your mouth and treat them promptly. Routine dental visits could help prevent dental diseases such as gum diseases from progressing and worsening.

It may also be a good idea to see your dentist when you notice any changes in your mouth. These include the signs and symptoms mentioned previously. Your dentist would be able to investigate the likely cause and offer prompt treatment. Where necessary, your dentist may coordinate with your physician to have a particular medication changed if found to be the culprit of your gum disease.

For people who struggle with maintaining good oral hygiene, your dentist may be able to offer appropriate advice. For example, an electric toothbrush may be particularly beneficial to people with poor manual dexterity. Also, your dentist may be able to provide an appropriate treatment plan if required for overcrowded teeth that are limiting oral hygiene. 

Dental clinics offer routine oral hygiene advice, including appropriate tooth brushing and flossing techniques. This could be of significant help to anyone struggling to maintain good oral hygiene.

Summary

The gums play an essential role in supporting the teeth in our mouths. If gum disease is not checked and allowed to progress, the teeth could eventually be affected. In effect, gum disease could lead to loss of teeth in the long term.

Also, gum disease is commonly associated with bad breath. This could severely inhibit our social interactions, potentially leading to mental issues. 

In addition, gum disease could make it difficult to eat comfortably, which could potentially affect the nutritional intake of an individual. Therefore, it is essential to have healthy gums to maintain general health.

References

  1. American Dental Association. Gingivitis. [internet]. [cited 2022 April 8]. Available from: https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/g/gingivitis
  2. European Federation of Periodontology. What is periodontitis? [internet]. [cited 2022 April 8]. Available from: https://www.efp.org/what-is-periodontitis/
  3. NHS. Dental check-ups. [internet]. [cited 2022 April 8]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-teeth-and-gums/dental-check-ups/

Adwoa Boakye

Master of Research - MRes Dental Public Health, The University of Manchester, England
I have a BSc in Human Biology and BDS. I do like to write about health issues in an easy-to-understand way for the everyday person.

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